One in three Japanese people visits a karaoke parlor each year, supporting a sing-along economy that has hit gold with a wide range of products to pull punters in.
Parlors have diversified to appeal to individual tastes, offering everything from solo booths to studios aimed at dog owners, and fancy food establishments where cordon bleu accompanies the blues.
Tokyo has more karaoke parlors than any other Japanese city. One such establishment is Karaoke Adores Akihabara, a tall red building near JR Akihabara Station.
On the ninth and 10th floors are 27 solo booths for singers and musicians, the first such parlor in this neighborhood.
Each room is around 3.5 square meters in size, and contains a desk, which holds a monitor and sound mixing board, and chair.
Customers can bring their own electric instruments. A guitar player might plug in his instrument, and then adjust its tone and pitch to match that of the song.
For those learning a new tune, the Super Slow Play feature brings the tempo way down.
And if a player wants to focus on just one specific instrument, the computer will omit those sounds from the entire tune.
"Even if I tried to form a band, it would be hard to recruit players," said a 47-year-old Tokyo resident who began playing electric guitar at junior high school. "If I play at home they say it's too loud. Music studios are expensive, and I feel weird renting one just for myself."
"Here, it feels like I'm playing with a real band," he said. "It's excellent."
Some customers like to upload their performances to video sharing websites, said an Adores publicist.
One weekday, the solo rooms are fully booked. Many of the customers carrying instruments here are young men. But about 40 percent of those who come to sing alone are women.
The singers range in age from 20s to 60s. Some are aspiring professional entertainers.
And ever-popular choices include anime theme songs and melodies by the AKB48 dance troupe.
THE WINE LIST, SIR?
Fioria Ariablu is a high-end establishment in Tokyo's Roppongi district. Established in 2003, this karaoke business devotes particular attention to food.
The menu here offers delicacies such as "Norwegian aurora salmon carpaccio" and "Nagano premium Shinshu beef sushi."
Five hotel-trained chefs staff the kitchen, and Fioria Ariablu maintains a constant stock of fine wine and champagne, some bottles priced at over 100,000 yen ($1,260).
Each of the 25 rooms has a unique design theme. One is named "Foot Bath Karaoke." It seats up to 12 people and has a pool of running water beneath the central table. The water is heated to 42 degrees, and a rippling noise is clearly audible.
"We're always circulating and filtering the water to keep it clean," the manager said.
A gate leads to the V.I.P. room. This one has the feel of a luxury hotel.
Another room offers a matchmaking program to assess what potential couples might have in common, a game popular among customers up to the age of 50.
A constant flow of women, children and seniors is seen at the Shidax Kichijoji Honcho Club near JR Kichijoji Station.
Inside, the Kids Room is laid out like a daycare center, with low sofas on a wooden floor, a swing set and even a slide. Customers can rent toys at the front desk, and the studio prepares children's meals.
A 35-year-old mother was one of the customers. She was accompanied by her two children, aged 2 and 5, together with friends and their children.
"If I go to a restaurant, my younger kid will run all over the place and won't calm down enough for us to eat properly," she said. "Here, I can let him play all he wants so long as he stays in sight, and I can relax."
A Shidax publicity official spoke of the center's appeal.
"It's nice to have something like a local community hall in the city where seniors and children can gather," the representative said.
Shidax even offers what it calls a "Wanderful Room," a name that plays on "wan," the Japanese word for "woof." At 71 studios, customers can bring their dogs and sing along with pooch.
The very first karaoke parlor, or "karaoke box," as they are known in Japan, appeared in 1985, said the All-Japan Karaoke Industrialist Association. The parlor was a modified shipping container, in Okayama Prefecture.
The association says there are now around 6,000 studios across the country. Around 700, more than one-tenth of them, are in Tokyo.
"Karaoke studios need to understand and respond to the changes under way, and the increasing diversification of customer needs," said Shiro Kataoka, the association's 52-year-old senior director. "As the population ages, karaoke studios also provide a good way for retired men to make their local debut."
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