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Travel, Teach, Live in Japan

Karaoke is Japanese for "Empty Orchestra"
By:John Gibb

Karaoke is Japanese for ‘empty orchestra’. It describes a strange Japanese tradition that has somehow made its way worldwide, where you sing the lyrics of well-known songs over a backing tape, preferably badly, and usually while very drunk. Many bars now have special karaoke nights and competitions, and some have even become full-time karaoke bars.

Anyone who has only ever heard karaoke might wonder how on earth this happened – after all, 99% of karaoke singers sound absolutely howling-cat nails-on-a-chalkboard terrible. If you’ve ever taken part yourself, though, then you’ll know the answer to that question: karaoke is really great fun.

I mean, who wouldn’t want to sing along to the classics by Elvis, and Abba, and songs from Grease? Karaoke is not the only place that you can see the appeal of these old standards – you can also find them in all sorts of ‘retro’ culture, from compilation CDs of various decades to ‘cheese nights’, where all the music played falls very definitely into the category of music you shouldn’t like, but do anyway.

If you’re into karaoke, it’s well worth noting that you don’t just have to go out to bars and do it. Many companies will readily rent you the equipment, but it’s not really that hard to get hold of it yourself. Karaoke CDs are cheap and easy to find, as are microphones and players capable of decoding them: they’re little more than CD players capable of plugging into a TV. If you don’t even want to go to this much trouble buying things and connecting them up, you could try the SingStar series of games for the Playstation 2. SingStar is basically a karaoke kit in a box, complete with song disc and microphones, with the advantage that you can also see the music videos and keep track of your progress on your memory card.

John Gibb

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