Traditional & Culture

Solo karaoke

This article is written by Anna Wildman on Traverse (a publication that helps to debunk Japan through a fresh perspective).

Karaoke is the quintessential Japanese pastime. It’s the thing you do on a Friday night when you don’t know where else to go. The place where you are guaranteed to have a good time with friends. 

Many westerners may think of karaoke as a stage performance at a bar, where everyone who happens to be at that bar on that particular night has to sit through your rendition of “Livin’ On A Prayer.” But, in Japan, it is a very different (and in my opinion, better) experience. 

Source: Unsplash

You rent out a private room, complete with disco lights, cheesy music videos, endless song choices, and a cornucopia of food and drinks. It’s just you and your friends, (horribly) singing all your favorite throwback tunes until your voices go hoarse. The one place where you can live out your popstar fantasies and not be judged for it. 

There’s another side to karaoke, however: solo karaoke, or hitokara in Japanese. It’s a shortened version of hitori (1 person) and karaoke. The hitokara industry has been booming in recent years, to the point that it’s been normalized in Japanese society.

Source: Hot Pepper

You may wonder what the appeal is in singing alone in a room for an hour. There is a multitude of reasons for its growing popularity, from reducing stress, to taking a break from partners or coworkers, or even singing practice.

There are also entire businesses built on solo karaoke. 1Kara is a karaoke chain exclusively for solo karaoke and was founded after discovering that 20-30% of all karaokers in Japan were going it alone. It now has six locations around Tokyo. 

Karaoke isn’t the only popular solo activity in Japan. It is actually tied to a larger Japanese phenomenon called ohitorisama (which loosely translates as ‘party of one’). With more than 30%  of households living alone, Japan is the perfect market for solo activities. There’s solo dining, drinking, movie-watching… the list goes on.

You can see this solo culture entrenched in everyday society as well – ready-to-eat meals for singles at the grocery store, separate lines for solo visitors at amusement parks, or partitioned tables at ramen shops.  

The rise of solo activities can be seen in other countries, too. More and more people are choosing to stay single rather than get married and have children. A 2019 report by Euromonitor International revealed that we will see a record 128% growth of single-person households by 2030. In fact, many European countries are even more single than Japan. Denmark is the global leader, with 47.4% of households being single-person. Norway and Germany’s figures are around 40%.

Solo travel, in particular, is gaining popularity around the world. According to the Association of British Travel Agents, in 2018 around 15% of travelers took a trip on their own. Globally, solo travel made up around 18% of global bookings in 2019, which went up by 7% compared to the previous year. 

Ironically, this “solo culture” has brought together a group of people, forming a sort of community. Solo karaoke singers, solo travelers, solo skiers…. All of these people have a common experience that they can bond over. 

I’ve never tried solo karaoke, but I imagine I would like it, just like I enjoy solo travel, as well as solo dining. Sure, at first it may feel weird and take some getting used to, but once you ease into it you realize its allure. You can do whatever you want to do with no external pressure, distractions, or opinions. It’s just you and the microphone. 

I’m curious, would you try hitokara? Have you done any ohitorisama activities before? Let me know in the comments below! 

Source: Traverse

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