Spend enough time in Japan and you’ll find yourself in a karaoke booth, whether by your own will or otherwise. Karaoke is such a deeply beloved institution in Japan that it’s possible to find onsen baths equipped with their own machines and Tokyo Dome City even offered patrons the chance to belt out some classics while ascending a Ferris wheel.
Unfortunately, the spread of COVID-19 has put somewhat of a damper on karaoke’s 50-year successful streak. Since the virus appears to be most easily spread by groups of people talking and yelling in close proximity, people are wisely steering clear of spaces where the entire point is to sit together in a small, questionably-ventilated room so you can all sing your lungs out together. The impact has been undeniable — the JKBA, or Japanese Karaoke Box Association, reports that over 500 karaoke outlets of the 6,000 registered across Japan have already closed due to lack of customers.
Complicating matters is how businesses were ordered to close to stem the spread of the virus, but many karaoke booths were still required to pay rent for the buildings they leased. And unlike other businesses that managed to operate within the lockdown, there’s doubt that customers even want to return to karaoke parlors now that they have the green-light to do so.
“This is the most dire situation we’ve faced since karaoke first started up in the 1970s,” one male karaoke booth manager commented.
Not everyone is missing the siren call of the karaoke booth, however. Some netizens expressed relief that their friends will stop forcing them to sing in public, while others grumbled at how uncomfortable and inconvenient it is to sing from behind a face mask. Others suggested government funding to bail out existing karaoke booths, or possibly using the soundproofed spaces for rentals to do less risky activities like watching concert DVDs or practicing musical instruments.
Karaoke is hardly the only cultural staple to have been put in a precarious position by the pandemic, but it’s definitely one of the most sorely felt. Diehard karaoke fans can at least rest assured that if they really, really need to get their fix, there’s a safe and completely normal-looking way to do so.
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