Tokyo's 5 wackiest karaoke parlors
A national pastime adored by roughly 50 million people across the country, karaoke can be sung in booths and bars, hotels and hostess clubs in just about every corner of Japan.
But when it comes to singing your little heart out, sometimes the less obvious spots can be much more fun.
While each karaoke room at the plush Lovenet in Roppongi carries a different theme, it’s the Aqua Suite that most stands out, featuring as its centerpiece an oversized bathtub for up to six singers to share.
Clamber in to the hot water (Lovenet sells swimwear for around ¥1,000, and there’s a private changing room) and get ready to sing The Clash with a splash, a few songs by Wet Wet Wet -- or maybe some ‘rub-a-dub’ dub.
While they won't all fit into the tub at once, the Aqua Suite accommodates a total of 14 people.
The decent food menu includes everything from a cheese plate to a steak, and the cocktail list is just as comprehensive. The whole venue feels classy yet affordable.
Lovenet’s 24 other rooms include the Ibiza Suite, which resembles a high-rolling casino minus the gambling; the intimate two-person Morocco Suite, with roughly plastered archways and a padded floor for reclining; and the Heaven Suite, which looks like ... Well, you can probably guess.
You can book ahead, and rooms cost between ¥4,000 per hour for the Morocco Suite and ¥60,000 for the 100-capacity Banquet Suite. The Aqua Suite will set you back ¥25,000 an hour; bring your own rubber ducky.
Hotel Ibis 3F-4F, 7-14-4 Roppongi, Minato-ku; +81 (0) 3 5771 5511; open 6 p.m.-5 a.m. ¥4,000-60,000/hour per room; www.lovenet-jp.com
Who says social interaction among otaku must be confined to jostling for position at AKB48 concerts or leaving geeky messages on video site Nico Nico Douga?
With its wide selection of songs from anime, videogames and kids’ TV shows, Fancy Cat in Kichijoji offers mic’ed-up merrymaking for the most hardcore fanatics.
Rather than offer private booths, Fancy Cat instead has a stage with a lighting rig, making an audience of your fellow customers and introducing an air of camaraderie that is as infectious as the songs themselves.
And even if there’s no one else there, you can at least rely on the bar’s cosplay-clad waitresses to cheer you on.
Its shelves heaving with manga volumes and figurines, Fancy Cat is the ultimate otaku hotspot.
Even the food menu goes out of its way to accommodate: Takoyaki (octopus dumplings) are made on the spot, and if you order an omu-rice you’ll find the omelet decorated with a manga character hand-drawn in ketchup.
Check the website (Japanese only) for themed events, including Ponytail Day, Maid Day and Vocaloid Day. Since photos are forbidden, leave your camera at home, brush up on your favorite anisongs and unleash your inner otaku.
Kashiwa Sakae Dai Ichi Bldg 2F, 1-22-9 Honmachi, Kichijoji; +81 (0) 4 2222 7163; open Mon-Sat 8 p.m.-5 a.m. ¥2,100 /hour (men), ¥1,575/hour (women), including two drinks; www.cross-kichijoji.jp/fancycat
Rockin’ the boat
If you thought karaoke was the domain solely of landlubbers, think again.
Houseboat Fukagawa Fujimi is a floating banquet hall that sets sail from close to Monzennaka-cho Station on the Tozai Line.
The 360-degree observation deck takes in sights such as the Rainbow Bridge, Tokyo Tower and, in late March and early April, the cherry blossom along the banks of Sumida River.
The boat is equipped with a karaoke machine, which means you can take your voice to the open waves (sea shanties not provided).
Tatami mats and optional kimono-clad ‘companions’ (charged extra) create a traditional vibe, and a menu including fresh sushi, sashimi and other denizens of the briny deep offer a stark sense of place.
What shall we do with the drunken sailor? Treat him to an all-you-can-drink course, which is included in the cost of boarding, as is the karaoke.
Prices depend on the size of your group and length of your party, but figure ¥10,500-21,000 per person for two and a half hours of unlimited hooch and harmony.
The boat can hold roughly 100 guests, and some staff speak English.
2-18-5 Furuishiba, Koto-ku; +81 (0) 3 3641 0507; departures 10 a.m.-7 p.m. (reservation required); ¥10,500-21,000/two and a half hours per person, including food and unlimited drinks; http://r.gnavi.co.jp/fl/en/g579100/
Dressed for success
Everybody loves a singing nurse. That’s the premise behind the phenomenon of cosplay karaoke, where karaoke complexes rent out costumes for a nominal fee so that customers can warble in a wig.
At its many branches in and around Tokyo, karaoke chain Karaoke No Tetsujin (Karaoke’s Iron Man) will make you a schoolgirl, a French maid, a cheerleader or an air stewardess for just ¥300 a sitting (sorry lads -- the costumes are for ladies only, though you can take your own).
The décor is pretty standard for a karaoke booth complex: beefed-up sound system for your tunes, TV screen that displays the lyrics against cheesy video backdrops, table on which to spill your beer and cushioned benches where someone in your group will inevitably fall asleep during an all-night session.
But it’s amazing how the cosplay element changes the experience -- and the song choices, too. The very act of donning a seirafuku (schoolgirl uniform) seems to bring out the inner nostalgic, and soon even your punk-rock friends will be singing garish 1990s J-pop and anime theme songs.
And it’s nice to know that if it all gets out of hand, well, there’s a nurse around to give you a little TLC.
Various locations in Tokyo, Yokohama, Chiba and Saitama; phone numbers, hours and half-hourly per-person rates vary; cosplay rental ¥300 (costume reservations available); www.karatetsu.com
Baby you’re a rich man
Prefer to sing in celeb surroundings? With its host of luxury rooms boasting huge sofas, plush cushions, soft rugs, atmospheric spotlighting and beautiful framed artwork, Mancy’s Tokyo is as classy as karaoke gets.
The swanky ground-floor café at this Azabu-Juban establishment serves high-grade fusion fare, but it’s the second-floor set of karaoke suites that will really make your mouth water.
Each resembles the lounge of a top-grade hotel, with a karaoke screen fitted snugly into a wall recess so as not to distract from the swish décor.
Hourly room rates start at ¥4,000 for the snug room numbers 2006 (curved high-back leather sofa and funky wallpaper) or 2007 (low-slung couch and mahogany walls), and go up to ¥20,000 for the 20-capacity room number 1001 (equipped with dual screens and several coffee tables).
With Champagne starting at ¥1,500 a glass and that exquisite kitchen on standby, you can be assured of a pampering -- perfect for bringing out the soul diva within. Just beware of the snooty staff.
1-3-9 Azabu-Juban, Minato-ku;+81 (0) 3 5574 7007; open 11:30-5 a.m.; ¥4,000-¥20,000/hour per room; www.trhd.jp/mancys/tokyo.html