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Karaoke

So you want to be a star? Want to feel the lights up on stage on Broadway? How about your own performance at Madison Square Garden? Everybody has their 5 minutes or so in the limelight, unfortunately probably not in those places (although, you never do know!). So what would be the next closest thing? Well, probably not the next closest but it might be a chance to stand in the spotlight... well, okay "a" spotlight of sorts. Karaoke! I know you've heard of at least the word, if not what it is. Basically it's a song with the vocals removed, and, you guessed it, you get to sing the vocals!

Karaoke has become almost a national past time in Japan (scary huh?). Everybody seems to be into it, little kids, housewives, businessmen (I'm sure you've heard them singing as you walk by some tiny local pub), even the senior citizens! You can find a karaoke "box" almost anywhere these days. A little side note, it's said that the idea of a karaoke "box" sprang into the mind of the inventor when he saw a container on a truck rolling by in front of him (true story!).

Well, to fully enjoy the karaoke culture in Japan, how about a few pointers on where to go and what to do? Perhaps some of you have already had a chance to experience karaoke back home well, brace yourself because it's a totally different experience here in the land of karaoke!


Grab that microphone!
So where do you go when you have that uncontrollable urge to grab a microphone and sing? Well, like I said, you can find a karaoke "box" almost anywhere these days. In some cases the major karaoke chain stores can be pretty cheap, and maybe not in other cases. Most "boxes" charge by the hour, and depending on where and when you go, these prices may differ. For example, if you go in the morning or afternoon, some places charge only 100 yen per hour, per person with one drink included. Obviously, rates get higher the later in the day it gets. At night, some places may charge around 700 or 800 yen per hour, per person with all you can drink drinks (alcoholic beverages included). The place where my friends and I like to frequent charges 500 yen per hour, per person with all you can drink alcohol. It all depends on where you go, but rest assured, so long as you don't find yourself heading into those weird places where the main attraction isn't usually the karaoke, prices are extremely reasonable. So here are a few places you might want to check out when you get the urge to sing:

Karaoke-kan (http://gnavi.joy.ne.jp/GN/chain/karaoke.htm#ichiran)
(chain store with "boxes" near almost every major train station) - Shinjuku (03-3346-3488), Shibuya (03-3462-0785), Ikebukuro East exit (03-5957-7566), Kichijoji South exit (0422-42-1330).

Big Echo (http://gnavi.joy.ne.jp/GN/karaoke/big-echo.htm)
- (another chain store with "boxes" almost everywhere) - Shibuya (03-5458-6341), Shinjuku (03-3200-7545), Roppongi (03-5411-4898).

Pandora
- (0422-20-8891) - Very reasonable store in Kichijoji, all you can drink or, buy your own drinks and food and carry that in!

Pop-La - (0422-21-6928) - 500 yen per hour, per person with all you can drink alcohol! Where is it you say? Well, finding it might be half the fun! You have to keep some things secret right?

Keets - (03-3584-3262) - Roppongi

GS Studio - (03-5411-2301) - Roppongi Square Building. A karaoke box with a grown-up atmosphere.

You can probably find a karaoke "box" near where you live, almost certainly by the nearest station. So, stretch those vocal cords, pick a song and blow 'em away!


Hear the drummer get wicked...
Depending on which store you go to, and often depending on which "box" you're put in, the karaoke machines may differ and accordingly the songs you can choose from. Most new Japanese songs are on all karaoke machines before you know it. In a matter of days usually. Your selection of English songs are pretty limited however. But like I said, the selection depends on where you go and what machine you end up using, so, all you can do is hope for the best! Stores in places where there is a large foreign community may have more English songs.

Now for the fun part. Ever wonder what the myriad of buttons on the remote and the main box are for? Try pressing one and see what happens (no, it won't blow up). How high-tech can you get? Well, one fun feature on some machines is the "voice changer" feature. You know when you can't find a song to sing and you finally find one you know but the original vocalist is the opposite sex? Well, just press this handy little button and vois-la! You guessed it, this little feature changes your voice to that of the opposite sex, which can be quite amusing when you're drunk. Of course there are the normal buttons that lets you change the pitch up or down·how about those songs when the singer sings so fast you're like "huh?" Well, some machines have a little button that allows you to slow the tempo down as well. Of course you can speed up songs too, but not really recommended for those types of songs.

There are machines with fun and unusual features as well. For example, some karaoke machines by "Be-Max" (http://www.toei-video.co.jp/data/frame98/karaok_index.html) have a fun little feature in which computer graphics "dancers" appear on the screen and show you how the original artist danced to the song so you can dance along while you sing (hey, who said exercise wasn't fun?). Karaoke machines by Sega (http://www.sega.co.jp/sega/kara/kara.html) allow you to score your performance and see how you rank among other people who sang the song nation wide. There is also a feature that allows you to make your own medleys.

So you really want to be a star? Well then head down to a place where they have the "Songoku" karaoke machines by JVC-Victor (http://www.jvc-victor.co.jp/goku/cont.html). These machines have a neat little feature that "audition's" you and if you pass, you may just make your major label debut.


And the band played on...
Well, there you have it. Next time you have an uncontrollable urge to sing Saburo Kitajima or Mr. Children or The Beatles you now know where to go! Don't forget all those buttons on the remote and the machine, besides blowing yourself up, you might find a funky little feature that you can use next time to impress your friends!



Day trips in and around Tokyo

Finding Accommodations
Hotels can be booked through a travel bureau, but there are a wide range of room rates and you have to decide when you book. Less expensive accommodations can be found at a minshuku or a pension. A minshuku is a family run inn that is only open during the season. Inexpensive, but the service is usually limited. A pension is a small inn or hotel popular with young people. For information call JNTO (Japan National Tourist Organization) at 3502-1461. http://www.ntt.co.jp/japan/JNTO/
They provide maps and information in English.


Reduced-price tickets -- JR offers all kinds of special ticket packages -- for example the Full Moon Pass . When you have decided where you are going and the number of people in your group, inquire at a JR station about what discount tickets are available.http://www.jreast.co.jp/e/index.html

When to travel -- at certain times of the year it is very crowded and if you must travel during these periods, advance booking is advisable: from Dec. 28 - Jan. 5; Golden week:
Apr. 29 - May 5; O-bon: mid-Aug; summer vacation season: end of Jul. - end of Aug. and the period Oct. - Dec.

Click here for travel agents.

Click here for tourist information.


Rental cabins (holiday houses)
Suitable for family groups of 4-5 people. Around 4,500 yen per person. Those handled by travel agencies have good facilities and can be trusted.


Day Trips
Hato Bus
English speaking courses for foreigners. A variety of day and night course to choose from. Call 3435-6081 for details.
http://www.hatobus.co.jp/english/index.html

Mt. Takao
600 meters high, with a view over the Tama hills. 6 different hiking courses. Wildlife park with plants and animals. The Yakuoin Temple holds a festival on the 2nd Sunday of March. Orienteering course. Take a cable car to the top if you wish.
From Shinjuku by Keio line to Takaosan guchi, about 50 minutes.


Shinrin Koen
Huge natural park. Takes days to explore. Cross country marathon course. Bicycles for rent. Get a map and choose your own course. 8 kilometers from the south exit of the park is an atomic bomb museum.
From Ikebukuro by Tobu Tojo line to Shinrin Koen station, about one hour.
Closed on Mondays.


Tokyo Disneyland
Tel: 047-354-0001
From Nihonbashi by Tozai line subway to Urayasu. There is a special bus from there to Disneyland, takes about 15 minutes.
Alternatively, take the special bus that departs from the Yaesu kita exit at Tokyo station every 10 or 15 minutes. Takes about 35 minutes, depending on the traffic.

http://www.tokyodisneyland.co.jp/

See also: Parks and Amusement Parks

Nikko
http://www.tochigi.com/nikko/
Located in nearby Tochigi prefecture, this is a tourist's heaven with various things to see and do. Among the more popular attractions include Kegon Falls, Toshogu Shrine, various hiking courses and hot springs as well. You can also go to Nikko Edo-mura (0288-77-1777) (http://www.jidaimura.co.jp/edo/edo02.htm or http://www.jnto.go.jp/13theme/nikkou.html) , an amusement park centered around the theme of historical Japan. Here you can enjoy ninja shows and experience first hand what Japan was like back in time.

Kawagoe
A town with an old time atmosphere. There are also festivals at the end of July and from October 14-15.
From Ikebukuro by Tobu Tojo line to Kawagoe station, then 30 minutes on foot.

http://www.city.kawagoe.saitama.jp/

Kamakura
Famous for its temples -- Hokokuji temple has a bamboo garden. From Shinagawa take the Yokosuka line to Kamakura station. You can also get on the famous streetcars known as the "Eno-den" (http://www.enoden.co.jp/).
http://www.city.kamakura.kanagawa.jp/

Yokohama
A modern, international town ever since the port was opened in 1859. Various attractions: Yamashita Park, Chinatown, Foreigners' cemetery, shopping centers, Minato-Mirai 21 and Yokohama Art Museum.
From Tokyo by Keihin Tohoku line or from Shibuya by Tokyu line.

http://www.city.yokohama.jp/indexE.html

Okutama
http://www.town.okutama.tokyo.jp/
Okutama is located on the western tip of Tokyo prefecture. Surrounded by Chichibu Tama National Park, it takes up 1/9th of the total land area of Tokyo prefecture. Surrounded by trees and lakes, it boasts many beautiful sights to see that you might forget that you are stil in Tokyo. You can take a leisurely stroll and if you want, since this is the source of the Tama River that flows through Tokyo, you can even fish as well since it isn't polluted as it is downstream.

Miura Penninsula
Located a mere one hour's drive from Tokyo. Or take the Keihin Kyukou Line from Shinagawa and get off at Zushi Station. Then take a bus to Misaki-guchi. Along the way you can enjoy Arasaki Natural Park, Sajima Marina and Sagami Bay. Here, you can enjoy marine sports and fresh seafood. If you like tuna, Misaki bay is known for good, cheap tuna.

Tokyo Bay Area
The bay area is now one of the "trendiest" places to hang out or go on a date. A mere stone's throw away from central Tokyo, it is home to places like Odaiba, Decks and Tokyo Disneyland.

Odaiba
Is home to Fuji Television, Telecom Center, Tokyo Big Sight, the nation's largest Ferris wheel and more. Odaiba comes from the Japanese word that means a base for a cannon. These cannons where built during the Bakufu period when Commodore Perry came to Japan to open up trade. You can get to Odaiba using the Yurikamome train which is completely automated. It even has it's own brewery so you can enjoy fresh beer while enjoying the sights.
Just a few of the Stores and restaurants you might want to visit:


Sunset Beach Brewing Company 5500-5066 Located on the 5th floor of Decks Tokyo Beach. Enjoy beer brewed in Odaiba.
Maguro-yasan, Wanza Ariake branch 5530-5660 Just like the name says, enjoy tuna dishes.
Copiletter Studio 5500-5022 Make mugs, t-shirts, watches, etc from your own pictures.
Sam Choy's Tokyo 5531-5036 Tasty Hawaiian cuisine
DAVOS, Daiba branch 5500-2850 Everything for the outdoors, gardening and aroma therapy.
Cafe Coyote 5531-5007 Casual Mexican restaurant
Zepp Tokyo 3599-0710 The world's largest indoor concert venue.
Mega Web 3599-0808 Toyota's showroom with all of it's cars and attractions, plus antique cars as well
Veranda 5500-5500 A lounge and bar where you can enjoy views of Tokyo Bay and the Rainbow Bridge


Weekend Trips
Hakone and Ashinoko Lake
The nearest resort area to Tokyo. Famous for its forests, lakes and hot springs. Ropeway and cablecar up the mountain. Botanical gardens and aviary.
From Shinjuku to Hakone Yumoto by Odakyu 'Romance Car' express in 1 hour 15
minutes. Then to Gora by Hakone Tozan railway in 40 minutes.
Hotel: Daimonji Soh (0460-2-4396) or Gora Kansuiro (0460-2-3141) .
10,000 - 30,000 yen per night.
Transportation: 5,000 yen.


Kasama and Mashiko
Famous for its pottery and ceramics.
From Ueno by the Joban line's Hitachi express to Tomobe - 1 hour 30 minutes.
Tomobe to Kasama by Mito line - 10 minutes.
From Kasama to Shimodate by Mito line - 34 minutes, then Shimodate to Mashiko
- 29 minutes. Mashiko to Utsunomiya by bus - 1 hour. Utsunomiya to Ueno by
Tohoku Honsen 1 - 24 minutes.
Overnight stay in Kasama is recommended. In Mashiko there is a pottery school.
A pottery fair is held from the end of April to the beginning of May and also
at the end of November.
Hotel: Izutsuya or Yamanoso. 8,000 - 12,000 yen per night.
Transportation: 9,000 yen.
TEL: 0285-72-3223


Shosenkyo and Winery
From Shinjuku by Chuo Honsen's Tokyu Azusa train to Kofu - 1 hour 40 minutes.
Then 30 minutes by bus to Shosenkyo. The Yumura Hot Spring is then 10 minutes
away by bus. Next day, 10 minutes by bus from the hot spring to Kofu. The
Katsumura winery is about 50 minutes away by Chuo line. It has a wine factory
and there is grape picking from the end of September to the end of October.
Hotel: Fujinoya or Yuden. 9,000 - 35,000 yen per night.


West Izu
Izu peninsula is a popular resort area, but the west side is quiet and has good views of Mt. Fuji.
From Tokyo take the Kodama Shinkansen to Mishima - 1 hour. Then from Mishima to Dogashima by bus - 2 hours 15 minutes. Dogashima to Osawa hot spring is then 20 minutes by bus.
The next day take the ten minutes bus ride to Matsuzaki and from there to Hagachizaki by boat, a 40 minute ride. From there to Hagachizakiguchi station is 45 minutes on foot. It's a one hour bus ride to Shimoda to board the Izukyu Odoriko express back to Tokyo, a 2 hour 45 minute trip. Hotel: Osawa Onsen or Osawa: 9,000 - 25,000 yen per night.
Transportation: 15,000 yen.


Oshima, Miyake, and Hachijojima
There are islands in Tokyo where you can enjoy surfing, diving, and sight seeing. For a cruise to the island, contact Tokaikisen.
Takeshiba - Oshima 3433-1251 ( 6hrs. 4140-6210 yen)
http://tokaikisen.co.jp/noriba.html
Hinodesanbashi-Miyakejima 3453-1415
Hinodesanbashi-hachijojima 3453-1415

Yamanaka Lake
The closest of the Fuji five lakes to Tokyo. A popular tourist spot where you can admire Mount Fuji and experience modern and traditional tourist attractions.
Fujiyama Beer 0555-24-4800 A beer hall type restaurant where you can enjoy the locally brewed beer.
Bashado Horse Riding Club 0555-62-1397 Learn how to ride horses (reservations required).
Yamanaka-ko Takamura Museum 0555-62-0001 Enjoy Art Nouveau, modern Japanese art, and classic cars

Katsunuma
Located in Yamanashi prefecture, it is the heart of Japan's wine industry. There are approximately 30 wineries in the town.
Mercian Katsunuma Winery 0553-44-1011 Japan's oldest winery, established in the 10th year of the Meiji Era.
Minaki 0553-44-0004 Enjoy the traditional regional cuisine "houtou".
Kawaura Onsen Yamagatakan 0553-39-2111 An onsen with a lot of history, it's said that the legendery Takeda Shingen bathed here.

Yatsugatake Kogen
This area of highlands, bordered by the Kiyozato and Nobezan highlands, is an inland resort area that matches the famous Karuizawa. Stay in one of the lodges and enjoy music at the concert hall.
Yatsugatake Kogen Concert Hall 0267-98-2131 Built on a proposal by one of the great pianists of the century, Sviatoslav Richter.
Takizawa Ranch 0267-98-2222 You can ride horses, feed the animals and even milk the cows. Also a camp ground as well.
Yatsugatake Kogen Lodge 0267-98-2131 A fire is kept constantly in the lobby fireplace, there are also two restaurants and a bar.
Tennis Garden and Pottery Workshop 0267-98-2131 Located within the Yatsugatake Kogen Lodge. 11 courts and a chance to test your pottery skills.

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