Karaoke is a huge part of Asian, particularly Japanese, culture that has been enthusiastically embraced here in Australia.
The word karaoke is a blend of kara, meaning 'empty', and oke, a contracted form of the word 'orchestra' — literally meaning 'empty orchestra'. This refers to the instrumental backing track that people sing along to, and has since become the overarching term for the activity itself. It is such a huge phenomenon in Japan that entire buildings are dedicated to karaoke; in Kyoto, the karaoke chain known as Jankara has several locations around the city that are open until 6am in the morning.
The biggest branch is at Kyoto Ekimae, near Kyoto Station, which has a whopping 75 rooms at incredibly reasonable prices. If you ever get the chance to go, try the 10 hour karaoke marathon, which comes with unlimited, self-serve soft drinks, tea, and coffee, for only 1500yen. It's a special offer that comes and goes quite regularly, so try your luck next time you're in Kyoto.
But for an experience closer to home, check out these four places in the Chinatown-CBD area that give value for money, and a great singing experience overall. The follow venues are all fully licensed, and come with security detail at night, for a fun and safe environment.
CEO Karaoke One of the fanciest karaoke bars in Sydney, when it comes to decor. CEO was really popular back when I was in university, with its light-up tables, plush seats, and spacious rooms with individual themes. It has an excellent drink menu, ranging from spirits, to wine, to beer, and a selection of hot foods and snacks to help them go down. The database contains mainly English and Chinese songs, but there is a good selection of Japanese and Korean as well.
Prices are calculated per room, per hour, ranging from $60 (between one to seven people), to $248 (for 31-60 people). It sounds like a huge sum, but when you've got a sizeable number of people in the room, it works out much cheaper than it first appears.
K Square Karaoke Lounge K Square is located in Capitol Square, just under the stairs that lead to Tech City from George Street. It was amongs the first karaoke places to come into prominence back in 2005, with a huge range of Chinese, English, and Japanese songs, which has now expanded to Korean as well. It's now one of those places you go to for the value, rather than the service, which can be a bit hit-and-miss sometimes. You can also check out their Food and Beverages Menu.
What I like best about K Square is the weekday Happy Hour pricing, which is usually $12 per person for two hours, and includes a free soft drink. It is better to book a room on the weekends, but if you're going on a weekday, there shouldn't be too much of a wait. Call them up on (02) 9281 8833 for more details.
Lantern by Wagaya This is a relatively new favourite, a branch of the renowned Wagaya Japanese restaurant. This venue is located on Level 2 of the Suntower, on George Street, and doubles as an izakaya restaurant. The best thing about Lantern is that you get a clean, spacious room to sing in, and can also enjoy a choice selection of the original Wagaya menu as well.
There are several pricing options at Lantern, but the one my friends and I usually opt for is the Karaoke Dinner package after 5pm. It gives you the room for three hours, provided you meet the minimum spend on food and drink, which changes depending on the number of people you have. This is an especially good deal on the weekends, when rooms can be priced from $50 per hour without the package, and is perfect for a large group of friends.
Mizuya Japanese Restaurant and Karaoke
Mizuya has 24 private rooms designed for a complete karaoke dining experience. It is structured in a similar way to Lantern, where you can opt for just karaoke, or enjoy it with a meal. They have an excellent bar, with both Western and Japanese alcohol, and a database of over 200,000 songs to choose from.
Mizuya also has package deals for dinner or lunch with karaoke, with a minimum spend per person for three hours. This is a better deal for people in large groups at night time, if you're looking for a place to have a party.
There are quite a few more karaoke places scattered about Sydney, but these are four of the ones I have always been drawn back to. The service at some has occasionally been slow, but when you're really only their to sing and have a great time with friends, it can be quite easy to overlook. The most important part of the experience is the song selection and the drink menus, after all.