Much of Japanese social life revolves around three things: Eating, drinking, and karaoke. Maybe you're a pro at eating and can hold your own with the bottle, but what to do when you cannot carry a tune?
Because, one day, you're going to need to sing to impress your co-workers or a date. Ah, crap.
Cramped living quarters mean that singing at home is hard for many. Japanese people start going to karaoke boxes when they're fairly young with their family or friends. This exposure to karaoke means that Japanese people are, generally speaking, good singers. Most people are comfortable singing in front of others. Not everyone though. There are some horrible, horrible singers. Then, there are people who want to get better.
Karaoke, which is a combination of "empty" ("kara" or 空) and orchestra (オーケストラ), was first invented in Japan during the early 70s, a result of new advances in recording and playback. Karaoke machines began appearing in pubs and "snack" or hostess bars.
During the 1980s, the "karaoke box" was born. These were (and still are) establishments offering small rooms where people can sing karaoke. With the advent of laser disc changers, bar masters were no longer were needed to change songs. Karaoke had long been popular in Japan, and technology took it out of the bars and put it in the boxes, making it available to a wider range of people.
In years past, before there were karaoke video games on home consoles, people went to karaoke boxes by themselves, with the purpose of practicing. Like anything, the more your sing karaoke, the better you get and the more you know your boundaries. Like, perhaps singing that Prince song is not a good idea. That Bob Dylan one might be more your speed.
But being in a karaoke box designed for 8 or 9 people is depressing. Worse yet, going to a karaoke box, which are typically crawling with groups of people, by yourself is depressing.
That's why, starting this month, karaoke chain Karaoke Manekineko is opening a new karaoke box designed for those singing solo: "Hitori Karaoke Senmonten Wankara Kanda Ekimae" or "Solo Karaoke Specialty Shop One-Kara In Front of Kanda Station". The karaoke box is located, as mentioned, in front of Tokyo's Kanda Station.
For those into corny Japanese puns, the mascot for "Wankara" ("One-Kara") is the number one shaped as a dog. Besides "one", "wan" (ワン) also means "woof" in Japanese.
The shop has a countdown site, ticking down to its Nov. 25 opening. Inside, the motif is a space station, with each karaoke box resembling a space pod. There are hands-free mics, a mix deck in some rooms, headphones, a "Ladies Only" section, and a drink bar with fizzy soda to guzzle. Check out the gallery above, courtesy of IT Media, for images.
Like so many things in Japan, the idea here is that by creating something so niche, people who go to Wankara will not be embarrassed, because all the other customers there are flying solo.
That being said, I'm totally up for visiting this place. There are a few Van Morrison songs I need to work on.