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A Brief History of Karaoke

Contrary to popular belief,' Karaoke' is not Japanese for "drunk and tone-deaf". It is a popular form of entertainment that originated in Japan over thirty years ago.

'Karaoke' is an abbreviation of "Karappo Okesutura", the Japanese word meaning "empty orchestra" an apt description for singing along to a music video, with the original vocals eliminated while reading the lyrics displayed on the bottom of a video or television screen. The word "Karaoke" is now listed in the Oxford English Dictionary, for the term has become widely recognised throughout the world.

The origin of Karaoke in Japan could not be separated from the traditional piano bar or guitar bar, which is the major premise of entertainment for Japanese business people since a long time ago. In the bars, the audience could be invited or even volunteered to sing with accompaniment of piano or guitar. It is also said when a strolling guitarist could not come to perform at the bar due to illness or other reasons, the owner of the bar prepared tapes of accompaniment recordings, and vocalists enjoyed singing to the tapes. This preceded the birth of Karaoke.

It is now widely recognized that the use of Karaoke starts earliest in Kobe city of Japan in 1970s. Kobe is a port city in Kansai areas, which was opened to international trade early in 1868 during the Meiji period. As an opening gate for Japan, Kobe enjoys the fame of being the leader of the fashion and trend. Indeed, its has created a lot of unique business and products such as instant noodle, supermarket, sauna, automated ticket gates, etc. There is saying in Japan that "New trend comes from the West of Japan (which is Kansai) and Fashion comes from Kobe."

Karaoke has become deeply embedded in Japanese culture.Group value is the most important attribute of Japanese culture. The recognition of individual identity is achieved through establishing relationship with the others, maintaining and reinforcing relationship. The group mentality has a deep root in the typical oriental ideologies, shaped primarily by Confucianism and Taoism. Japanese leading philosophy Shintoism is actually the extension of Taoism. The emphasis on the seeking of harmony is the primary consideration to all these philosophies. It suggests that the morality of each human is only embodied in relation with rest of human society.

Social relations are an integrated part of people's life. The objective of entertainment is not primarily entertaining oneself , instead, a way to indulge oneself in the group and interacting with each other. Given this background, it is reasonable to say that Karaoke is not only preferred for leisure and enjoyment, but also, it has significant social function. No one goes to Karaoke individually, and it is taken as granted that you should always be with your friends there, either business colleageus, close friends or even family members.

Modern Japan is a corporate society, i.e. the whole society is dedicated solely to corporation. Individual is identified with the corporation. Excessively long working hour is the norm for a corporate person. The people's life centers around the corporation, functioning as part of production machines. The constraints on individual lives have become needlessly binding.

Further, the value of harmony and group thinking restrain the people from expressing their wish and opinion. Obeying the order and diligently playing the assigned role is the principle of living.

Suppression of individualism gives another reason for the boom of Karaoke in Japan. This is because Karaoke, provides one of the few chances for an individual to show himself or herself in front of others with his or her own voice, without being branded arrogant or self-centered. It fulfills the latent desire or urge to gain credit as an individual without jeopardizing the need to be accepted by the whole group. For the people living in stressful society, there is no other entertainment that can make them so refreshed and relieved.

Space Constraint Given the limited natural environment in the country and increasing urbanization, there are less and less land spaces available for outdoor leisure activities, which, of course, stimulates the development of on-premise (indoor) entertainment business like bar, Karaoke, sauna, etc. The space limit as well as the need for sound proof, Karaoke Box, a roadside facility containing closed-door insulated rooms for singing, was created in 1984. The first Karaoke box appeared in 1984 in rice field in the countryside of Okayama prefecture, west of the Kansai areas. It was build from a converted freight car. Since then, Karaoke boxes have been built on unoccupied ground all over Japan, and in urban areas, Karaoke rooms, which consist of compartments made by partitioning and soundproofing rooms in a building, were introduced and set up one after another.

The boom of Music Vedio Music video, as a newly developed business form of Pop music industry, provides a precondition for the development of Karaoke. Karaoke actually exploded out from Japan after the development of Laser Disc (LD), and Compact Disc (CD + graphic) technologies, which allowed for the lyrics displayed on a TV screen while the music is playing and also immediate location of each single song. For the benefit of recording companies, the commercialization of Karaoke business provides an excellent medium for the promotion of POP songs and new stars.

Karaoke boom, originated in Japan 30 year ago and embedded in its unique national culture, has spread abroad, enjoyed not only widely in Korean, China, Southeast Asia, but also in Europe and U.S. There might be several apparent factors contributing not only to its current success but also future prospects.

1) Nothing would explain better than the irresistable fun of Karaoke. People love music. People love singing. Karaoke can make you sound better than you actually do. Self-fulfillment is a universal human nature, no matter what culture it is.

2) More frequent cross-cultural interaction between the east and the west makes the world more diverse than ever. People, wherever they are, accept anything that is "good". McDonalds is everywhere, Chinese restaurants are everywhere. Although it is a debated issue that the world is becoming a homogeneous one, but the convergence is one thing for sure.

3)The popularity of Karaoke should also be attributed to its operational simplicity and flexibility in application. To play Karaoke, you only need a TV, a VCR (CD +graphic) and a tape. Now it can even be played on Computer. It is applicable and has actually applied to all kind of music, from the newest pop or country hits, to classic rock, and oldies, R&B hits, children songs, Christian song, ethnic songs, and more.

4) Since Karaoke displays the words and scenes of a song on a monitor, it has also been attracting the attention of countries trying to improve their literacy rate, as a good education tool. This might be the unexpected effect of Karaoke.

Given all the above factors contributing to its success, it is very likely that Karaoke, the entertainment industry born in a small night spot in Kansai, will continue to make further strides both at home and abroad, at least for the near future.

However, it is unreasonable to say that the today's dominant position of Karaoke in Japan and other Asian countries is not going to be challenged by other new coming form of entertainment. In Japan, there has been a conscious social efforts in the revaluation and liberation of individuals. A fundamental reform has been proposed against traditional ideological values, and the original social organization. It is hard to predict but interesting to see how these potential changes are going to affect the development of Karaoke in the future.

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