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SMAC! Web Magazine

LOST (and FOUND) in TRANSLATION #012 – “KARAOKE & HITOKARA”

Hi everyone,

Being an Otaku, it can sometimes be difficult talking to “normal” people. You’ve probably got a few relatives and friends who don’t really understand your anime & manga hobby. Not only do all your Naruto references fly completely over their heads, but they’re not even too clear on where exactly Japan is, or how it differs from other countries in Asia…

That being said, I bet that even those “normal people” have heard of karate or ninjas. Some words have had such a big cultural impact, that no matter how indifferent someone is, the word will still exist in their vocabulary.

So today, instead of introducing a rare word, I’d like to first talk about a Japanese word that has been completely assimilated into English (and many other languages too!)

Today’s word: カラオケ (karaoke).

(A note on the pronunciation: As English speakers, we say something like “karioki”. When you’re speaking Japanese, that final “ke” sounds like the “ke” in “ketchup”. Ka-ra-o-ke. The same goes for when you’re saying “karate” and “sake”)

Now, we know karaoke is a wonderful form of entertainment that was invented in Japan, but what does the word literally mean?

“Kara” (空) means “empty” (it’s actually the same Kara as in Karate) and “oke” is short for Orchestra. Basically, the empty part refers to the lack of lyrics. So a karaoke song is like an “orchestra” playing with all the lyrics removed!

LFT_012 hitokara
Customers singing their hearts out at “hitokara”

In Japan, there are a lot of places which hire out private karaoke booths. These are very comfortable, and you can also order food and drink, making them ideal for hanging out with friends, or even for a date. You can sometimes see scenes like this in manga or anime. High school protagonists are of course too young to go to clubs and bars, and they also live with their families. So if the only realistic “date scene” with a little privacy is a karaoke booth!

A recent trend in Akihabara is “hitori karaoke” (solo karaoke), or “hito-kara” for short. In the middle of the day (when most people are at work), the amount of solo karaoke singers has always been relatively high. So recently, there are shops which specifically cater towards one man (or woman!) karaoke singers.

Now, you’d think this would appeal to people with no friends (´・ω・`) but actually, there are normal people who have friends, who also enjoy it. Perhaps they want to practice a song before they show off to other people, or maybe they just want to let off some steam by singing at the top of their voice!

Solo Karaoke Site
https://1kara.jp/en/

As a final benefit, karaoke boxes are usually open 24/7. So if you’ve missed the last train home or if you want to do an all-nighter with your friends, karaoke is definitely an option. If you ever come to Japan, I definitely recommend going at least once. And if you’re too shy to sing in front of a crowd… that’s what hitokara is for!

Penmaru