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Karaoke

A brief history

The following Karaoke information has been gleaned from various sites.

Word Origin

It's amazing how many people love Karaoke outside of Japan but apparently have no idea how to pronounce it. The Japanese pronunciation of Karaoke is: Car-Ah-Ok

The Japanese word "karaoke" is now listed not only in Japanese dictionaries but also in the latest edition of The Oxford English Dictionary published in England, one of the most distinguished and formal English dictionaries, proving the word has become common throughout the world.

Karaoke is a typical form of entertainment for Japanese business people; they drop into a bar with colleagues after work, have a drink, and enjoy singing popular songs to the accompaniment of karaoke. Karaoke has been entertaining people ever since its invention 20 years ago, and has become firmly established in Japanese society, going far beyond just a temporary boom.

Born in Kobe

Karaoke is a Japanese abbreviated compound word: "kara" comes from "karappo" meaning empty, and "oke" is the abbreviation of "okesutura," or orchestra.

Usually, a recorded popular song consists of vocals and accompaniment. Music tapes in which only the accompaniment is recorded were named "karaoke."

It is now widely recognised that the use of karaoke started at a snack bar in Kobe City. It is said that when a strolling guitarist could not come to perform at the bar due to illness or other reasons, the owner of the bar prepared tapes of accompaniment recordings, and vocalists enjoyed singing to the tapes. Even though it is only legend, this might have been the beginning of karaoke, and since then, karaoke has been commercialised and has become popular all over Japan.

The Background of Karaoke's Popularity

The Japanese like parties. From ancient times, a party become enlivened when someone started singing and the others kept time with hand-clapping, making the atmosphere more cheerful. It has never mattered whether the person sings well or not. Even if he sings out of tune, it can spark laughter and make the party more lively.

Having such a custom, the Japanese are generous when they listen to other people sing, and can easily sing in front of others without feeling reluctance. This also seems to be one of the reasons that karaoke has been largely accepted in Japanese society. Karaoke was born in a night amusement quarter at the end of the high economic growth period. Until then, customers used to listen to popular songs via wire broadcasting, request favourite songs by telephone, and the wire broadcasting company put the songs on the air. Such a system continued for quite a while.

However, it might be unnatural for many Japanese who like singing to only listen to other people sing. It was then that karaoke appeared on the scene. Holding a microphone and singing a song to the accompaniment of an "orchestra," you can feel like a professional singer. If other customers give you a big hand, you feel all the happier. Karaoke has thus stimulated people's desire to sing. For corporate soldiers living in a stressful society, there is no other entertainment that can make them feel so refreshed. Consequently, karaoke immediately spread from Kansai all over Japan.

Technological Innovations and the Karaoke Box

Though karaoke was at first an entertainment mainly for business people, it has grown to be an international amusement, thanks to technological development and a new business called the "karaoke box."

Originally in the form of tape of a popular song's accompaniment, karaoke evolved to the compact disk, which can locate the beginning of a song immediately. This development also made possible the enhancement of video scenes to create an atmosphere suitable to each song, displayed on a TV monitor along with the words.

Using technological innovations such as the video disk, laser disk, and CD graphics, karaoke has grown to be a major entertainment industry. Family-use karaoke sets have also become popular, making the amusement formerly limited to night spots possible in the home. However, there is an obstacle to this end of the business: since most Japanese houses stand close each other and are still built of wood, with poor sound-proofing, it would be very annoying of the neighbours to sing into a microphone at night.

Seizing upon the opportunity created by this problem, entrepreneurs created the karaoke box, a roadside facility containing closed-door insulated rooms for singing. They are advertised as a place where you can sing to your heart's content. The first karaoke box appeared in 1984 in a rice field in the countryside of Okayama Prefecture, just west of the Kansai area. It was built from a converted freight car. Since then, karaoke boxes have been built on unoccupied grounds all over Japan, and in urban areas, karaoke rooms, which consist of compartments made by partitioning and soundproofing rooms in a building, were introduced and set up one after another. As these facilities were established mainly to provide places to enjoy singing, they became widely popular among all sectors of the population -- female office workers, housewives, college students, and even high school students.

Karaoke's Unexpected Effect

Since karaoke boxes are closed-door facilities, they became an object of public concern as potential havens for misdeeds among young people. On the other hand, however, since many families enjoy singing together in karaoke boxes, the karaoke box also plays a role as a place for family communication through singing. This is important at a time when generation gaps and family break-ups are a nation-wide concern. However, the karaoke boom has spread abroad, enjoyed not only in Korea and China but also in Southeast Asia, the U.S., and Europe. Since karaoke displays the words and scenes of a song on a monitor, it has also been attracting the attention of countries trying to improve their literacy rate, as a good educational tool.

It is likely that karaoke, the entertainment industry born in a small night spot in Kansai, will continue to make further strides in both technological development and popularity.

It is said that since the popularisation of records, radio, and TV, people have become passive receivers of entertainment. The advent of karaoke might help correct this phenomenon and make a great contribution to the history of musical entertainment.


There is, as expected, a wealth of further information and song listings etc. on the Internet.

A particularly good site for song searching and equipment for Karaoke is Cookies.