In downtown Tokyo, you generally only have to walk a couple minutes to get to the nearest Starbucks, and sometimes on the way you’ll stumble across a new one that’s just been built. The reason they keep building more, though, is because customers keep coming, and sometimes you’ll poke your head into multiple branches without being able to find a single empty seat.
That was the problem our reporter Mr Sato had the other day. To be honest, though, it wasn’t so much that he was craving Starbucks’ particular blend of coffee. Sure, he wanted a drink and a bite to eat, but what he really wanted was a place to linger and relax for an hour or two, and he ended up finding a very unexpected oasis in Tokyo’s downtown Shinjuku neighborhood.
Walking down the street, he spotted a sign advertising a pretty great deal: a lunch set, plus unlimited soft drinks for just 500 yen. When he looked up, though, he was surprised to see that the sign wasn’t for a fast food place or cafe, but for a branch of the karaoke parlor chain Karaoke no Tetsujin.
Generally, karaoke places don’t get that many customers until at least the late afternoon. So since the rooms are just sitting idle, some Karaoke no Tetsujin branches, like the west Shinjuku one that Mr. Sato visited, offer themselves as lunch spaces. That 500-yen charge includes not just the cost of your food and drink, but also the room itself, meaning you’ve got your own private box in which to eat your meal.
The menu offers nine different lunch options: Hawaiian loco moco (hamburger steak with rice), shrimp rice pilaf, fried rice, Napolitan spaghetti, carbonara, shrimp pasta with tomato cream sauce, udon noodles with fried tofu, and ramen with either tonkotsu (pork stock) or soy broth.
Using the in-room phone, Mr Sato put in his loco moco order, then turned his eyes to the drink menu, which has a whopping 17 different beverages to choose from (11 cold and 6 hot), such as cola, melon soda, five kinds of tea, and coffee. At first he thought he might have to go get the drinks himself at a self-service drink bar, but nope. Just like with the food, the staff will deliver your selection to your room once you place your order over the phone.
The loco moco was skillfully prepared, and far fancier than what Mr Sato could have gotten at a 500-yen greasy spoon. He also had a lot more personal space, since instead of being crammed onto a stool at a counter with salarymen at either shoulder, he had the entire room to himself.
After finishing his food, Mr Sato picked up the phone and ordered another drink. He was in no hurry to leave his private haven, especially since Karaoke no Tetsujin offers free Wi-Fi. They also have power outlets and a selection of smartphone chargers which they loan out free of charge by request, in case your devices are running low on juice (Mr. Sato had use of the room until 3 p.m., plenty of time to top off his various gadgets).
Perhaps the best part of all was that once he was satisfyingly full, Mr Sato could slip off his shoes, stretch out on the sofa, and take a nap, something that’s definitely frowned upon at Starbucks in Japan, but perfectly acceptable when you’re the only one in the room.
Of course, singing a few songs to aid your digestion is also an option, since this is, after all, a karaoke parlor. But even if you’ve got no interest in music, this is still an extremely affordable, less crowded alternative to a coffeehouse break.
Karaoke no Tetsujin (Nishi Shinjuku branch) / カラオケの鉄人（西新宿店）
Address: Tokyo-to, Shinjuku-ku, Nishi Shinjuku 1-13-5, Mare Nishi Shinjuku Building
Open 11 a.m.-6 a.m. (lunch until 3 p.m.)
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