Karaoke (カラオケ) is an extremely popular pass-time in Japan. Groups of friends or even individuals sing popular songs, either at a Karaoke Box or a bar. As well as Japanese, most venues offer a large number of songs in English, Chinese, Korean and other languages.
Karaoke Boxes are everywhere and easily identified by the large カラオケ signs they invariable have outside. They offer private rooms with sound-proofing where you can sing your heart out with friends, or even alone if you just want to practice. Prices are pretty cheap during the day, often only a few hundred yen an hour, and even in the evenings they don't get particularly expensive.
To rent a karaoke box for an hour or two just go up to the front desk. You will have to write your name in a little book and how long you want the room for. Smoking rooms are often available. You pay on the way out. Drinks and food are available and tend to be a little bit expensive, but are convenient. You can usually order alcohol too.
You will be given wireless microphones that automatically work with the karaoke machine in the room. You can select songs with a touch screen tablet computer. There are usually a couple in each room, stored by the karaoke machine. Most have an English language option. Songs can be found by searching for artist name or song name, or simply browsing various categories. The selection of songs might seem a bit odd some times - many major artists will be covered, but not always the songs that were hits in your home country. When you find a song you like you hit the play button. Aim the tablet at the karaoke machine because most use infra-red, like a TV remote control.
The microphones have a power switch. The karaoke machine will have controls for volume, reverb, voice/music mix and pitch. The pitch of the song can be adjusted from the tablets too, in case you want to sing in a different key.
There will also be a phone in the room. If you want to call the front desk just pick it up. You can order drinks, and they will often call you a few minutes before your time is up. Rooms are almost always air conditioned as well, and there will be a control panel for that too.
Some bars offer karaoke. Many Japanese bars are very small and intimate, so not that unlike a karaoke box. If you want to do a lot of singing a karaoke box might be a better bet, but if you find yourself at a bar with karaoke feel free to serenade the other patrons.
Karaoke is supposed to be fun, so don't worry if you are not very good at singing. Pick easy songs, not too fast or complex, and in a key you can easily reach. Classics are always a good place to start. Keep in mind that modern music tends to make heavy use of effects and processing on the vocals, so you will never sound quite like the original. Older songs, written before about 1990, tend not to suffer from this problem so much. Pick songs you know well so you don't have to rely on the screen to remember the words.
With a bit of practice you will get to know what your voice is capable of and what songs you are good at. You can always get some solo practice in too, especially during the day when karaoke box prices are extremely cheap.