Karaoke in Japan isn’t about singing well, it’s about having a good time and bonding.

And drinking.

Even if your pipes aren’t exactly Mariah Carey level, everyone will appreciate you trying your best. Although it’s probably best not to break out your death metal screaming at the company night out…

When in the karaoke booth with a group of Japanese people, any foreigner risks being automatically assigned to the role of English language juke box. Even if you don’t actually know the song, and even if English isn’t your first language, you will probably be barraged with requests.

Of course, singing songs in English is one way to join in the fun and keep the party going, but for a sure-fire crowd pleaser, start belting out a classic song in perfect Japanese.

Which Japanese Karaoke Songs to Learn

By just mastering one or two songs, this simple skill holds the possibility to make you more popular, break the ice in an awkward first drinking party and elevate you to everyone’s favourite gaijin for the night.

The lyrics appear on screen as the song plays, but depending on your reading skill, and in the interests of timing, it's best to learn the songs beforehand. Whether you’re going to Japan for work, school or anything else, here’s some songs you can prepare for your inevitable karaoke debut.

Karaoke for Students in Japan

If you’re going to be living in Japan as a foreign student, your Japanese friends will definitely invite you to karaoke, so you can experience this cornerstone of modern Japanese culture. Since trends come and go, it can be hard to know which songs are currently considered the ‘in’ thing, but this song is known by everyone since it was made for a TV advert and therefore was played incessantly.

‘Umi no Koe’, a song dripping in Okinawan twang was written by the composers of the legendary ‘Shimanchu no Takara’ (a song which can basically be considered Okinawa’s anthem, and is a must learn if you happen to be visiting there). The lyrics can be picked up fast since they contain a lot of simple vocabulary like ‘umi’ (sea), yama (mountain) and sora (sky), words that you probably learnt in your first few Japanese classes.

Lyrics for Umi no Koe by Begin can be found in the description box of the YouTube video (kanji only). Here is a link for romanized lyrics.

Karaoke for Working in Japan

If you’re out with some older colleagues and superiors that you haven’t known for a long time, you probably want to keep it cool and classy. An older song will appeal to their conservative sensibilities, and hopefully they will be impressed that a young foreigner like yourself has even heard of these throwbacks.

One unshakeable classic is 'Ue o Muite Aruko' (I Look Up As I Walk), despite being a Japanese language song it topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the US in 1963, and is one of the best selling singles of all time. This slow, melancholy track should be a breeze to sing for any Japanese level.

There isn't an official version by the original singer Kyu Sakamoto on YouTube, so this is a cover version. Lyrics can be found in kanji and romaji here.

Karaoke When Surrounded by Otaku

If you find yourself in a karaoke booth full of known anime fans, there’s a few songs that will definitely get everyone going in a wave of nostalgia. One track that is sure to accomplish this is the opening theme from Neon Genesis Evangelion, 'Zankoku na Tenshi no Te-ze'. It contains some vocabulary that generally doesn’t come up in every day conversation and the tempo is fast in parts, so it could be a challenge for those with basic Japanese.

Kanji and romanized lyrics for Zankoku na Tenshi no Te-ze can be found here.

Karaoke to Appeal to Idol Fans

When it comes to Japanese idol music, it’s all about AKB48. When the girl group's cute and fun hit, ‘Koi Suru Fortune Cookie' (Fall in Love Fortune Cookie) came out in Japan, it seemed like you couldn’t turn a corner without hearing it. Although few people in Japan would admit to liking 'idol' music, this irresistibly catchy track will have everyone singing along. You’re sure to get bonus points if you learn the dance moves too!

Kanji and romanized lyrics for Koi Suru Fortune Cookie by AKB48 can be found here.

By - Jess.