Karaoke is the gift Japan gave the world, and in Tokyo anyone can sing their heart out in a number of different ways. There are regular karaoke ‘boxes’ for you and your friends, one-person hitokara booths for shy crooners, and establishments specialising in anime songs, J-pop or other under-the-radar genres.
One of the more curious styles is live-band karaoke, in which your singing is accompanied by real musicians who are not afraid to switch up the tempo or improvise in other creative ways. Think you can handle the pressure of fronting a live band? Head to one of these six Tokyo spots to find out.
Tokyo's best live-band karaoke venues
Ban x Kara’s second Tokyo location not only lets you show off your vocal range backed by a professional band – you and your friends are welcome to also take over on the guitar, drums or some other instrument while you do your best pop idol impression. Able to accommodate groups of up to 80 people, Zone-GZ is one of the most spacious live karaoke establishments in the capital, so those of you planning a company bonding night, or who just happen to be incredibly popular, might want to give this one a go. Couples’ rooms and VIP booths cater to those on the hunt for something more intimate, and additional entertainment options range from darts to hookah smoking rooms.
You’ll feel like a real star when you step onto the gorgeously decorated stage at, uh, Stage, Kabukicho’s finest live karaoke bar. The house band’s repertoire includes an unbelievable 15,000 songs, from which you can choose your favourites using a simple electronic controller. Booking the entire place is an option for large groups, while smaller parties and solo singers can usually walk right in and won’t need to wait long for their moment in the spotlight.
A bar and restaurant that also happens to do live karaoke, Ban x Kara Zone-R is the ideal destination for those looking for a more laidback venue at which to perform. The resident musicians are very versatile and know a ridiculous amount of tunes. And as is to be expected of a place that is primarily a restaurant, the food and drinks here are better than at many other karaoke joints – fresh ingredients are sourced daily from trusted farmers, and the wine cellar is packed with fine bottles from all over the world.
Karat in Ginza is one of the few live karaoke establishments with a proper concert-hall setting, including seats for an audience of up to 50. Karat’s band promises to at least try to fulfil all requests, however obscure, so those looking to sing something other than Adele or Arashi may want to put Karat close to the top of their list. Cheered on (or booed, depending on your efforts) by a proper crowd, you can get a taste of what professional singers have to deal with every time they step into the spotlight.
Leave it to a ramen shop to do live karaoke the right way: Live Lounge Taketora is run by the folks behind Shinjuku noodle joint Mensho Taketora and goes all out to really make you feel like a star. In addition to a full band, they have lasers, smoke machines and your face will be projected onto a huge flat-screen TV, on which onlookers can take in the full majesty of your performance. The all-you-can-drink menu – which helps the nerves if not always the quality of the performances – boasts significantly more variety than most bottomless bars and there’s pizza available to soak up the excess. Large groups are accommodated, but you’ll need to book ahead if you’re planning a concert for a group of your friends.
A pioneer in the live karaoke business, Nishi-Shinjuku’s 21st Century has let guests perform with the resident band since 1976, and with that amount of experience in the bag, the musicians here aren’t just content with playing by the book. You can expect them to react to your vocals and switch up the tempo as needed. Their repertoire includes over 2,600 songs, from classics to the latest chart hits. And when you need a breather, just sit down and enjoy the antics of 21st Century’s own performers, whose efforts are sure to get you fired up for your next go. The regular cover charge is ¥5,000 but first-timers get in for ¥3,000.
More things to do in Tokyo
We round up the city's best gourmet festivals – from chanko nabe and sweet potatoes to chocolate, wine and lots and lots of beer
Just because it's cold outside doesn't mean you're stuck with nothing to do. Here are the top indoor activities in Tokyo, from museums to bathhouses and more
Want to see Tokyo from the top? Visit these observation decks for the best views in the capital