In 2015 there were about 134000 karaoke rooms in Japan, shared by a total of 475 million guests – and yet it is very difficult to find an abandoned karaoke establishment in decent condition… but I finally succeeded!
Karaoke and Japan are inextricably linked with each other. The word karaoke is a Japanese portmanteau, consisting of kara (= empty) and oke (= an abbreviation of the English word orchestra a.k.a. okesutora). It was most likely invented in 1971 by a musician Daisuke Inoue, who worked as a drummer at an utagoe coffeehouse, where the gathered customers sang songs together; those establishments were popular in the 1950s to 70s in Japan and are all gone now, but a handful. (Inoue apparently got tired of playing the same song requests all the time, so he recorded and sold them – the rest is history.) For the last five years, the Japanese karaoke industry has been recovering from a ditch in popularity (from 585 million customers a year in 1995 to 465 million in 2010) with slowly but steadily rising numbers in both boxes and guests. Personally I couldn’t care less about this aspect of Japanese pop-culture. My dad’s a retired musician, I was always surround by excellent albums and live music – hearing amateurs sing is one of the most painful things I can imagine, no matter how drunk I am; more than 10 years in Japan, not a single karaoke night for me! If you are into karaoke… good for you, I wish you all the fun in the world with it! Luckily they sound-proof those karaoke boxes… 🙂 (When I went to *North Korea* in 2013 the guides tried to peer pressure us into singing our national anthems – I claimed that it’s illegal to sing the German national anthem without the written permission of the German government and strangely enough not only the North Koreans believed me…)
Like I said, currently there are about 134k karaoke rooms in Japan. Let’s say each establishment features 20 rooms in average, that makes 6700 karaoke locations… And yet it was very hard to find an abandoned one in decent condition. Took me almost eight years! It’s not like I haven’t seen any abandoned karaoke parlors in the past, but they were pretty much all partly collapsed and overgrown. And the large places in the cities are not really abandoned when they close – they get locked properly and wait for a different use / demolition. Unlike hotels, hot springs, temples, theme parks, … karaoke joints have to be in walking distance and therefore in sight and / or hearing range of civilization, because let’s be honest: More often than not doing karaoke is just a thinly veiled excuse for getting s#!tfaced… 🙂
The Abandoned Japanese Karaoke Box was actually a shipping container construction near a more or less popular tourism spot. Each container was transformed into a karaoke room or a bathroom, the VIP room consisted of two containers, the kitchen probably of three; an additional one or two for the hallway / staircase, some plywood for the roof – done. Considering the location, the rather cheap construction and that the place must have been abandoned for something like five to ten years, it was overall in decent condition. Sure, some windows were smashed, some items were thrown around, but at least nobody started a fire or stole every single piece of equipment. The various lights and the half disco ball I found especially fascinating – when I first saw the Abandoned Japanese Karaoke Box from the outside I thought I’d be in and out in 30 minutes; it took me almost three hours to document this unusual 2-storey 4 by 20 meters construction… Since the place was an original find, I don’t know anything about its history, but to honest, I don’t really care. I finally had fun at a karaoke box!
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