It's common knowledge that karaoke was born in Japan. And love it or hate it, it's a big part of modern Japanese culture. Although it has spread around the globe, Japan is still the best (and sometimes the cheapest) place to pretend that you're the latest music sensation. In Japan, karaoke is usually sung in booths, so the only people you'll potentially embarrass yourself in front of are the friends you take with you.
There are many establishments to choose from, each with their own selling point. There are even places besides the big karaoke chains, called “snacks”, which are like small bars with a karaoke machine. Mega Crayon is the more typical karaoke chain, based in the Tohoku area. I've honestly never seen another karaoke place like it. The one in Yamagata City is even more unique – it's located in a multi-story car park.
The main differences between different karaoke chains are price, song selection and the food and drink menu. Usually, food is ordered separately and costs extra. At Mega Crayon, all food (and drink) is included in the price. And that price is cheap.
The selection at each store depends on its size. At Yamagata you can enjoy rice and curry, popsicles, toast and snacks like tortilla chips. Larger locations also have salad, oden and other desserts. Besides the usual selection of soft drinks there is also self-serve beer and cocktails; this does mean that it's not a place to take children. As with many buffets, the quality of the curry isn't very good, but the store does allow you to take in your own food if you want, as long as you take your rubbish away with you.
Other positive points are free wifi and the selection of songs. Unlike the curry, there's no stinting on the songs – the main course of karaoke. The latest Disney songs were there and no-one was left without a song they wanted. Some machines have the option of an English menu – you might be able to ask for one, but it could depend on which room is available. There are 15 rooms, able to comfortably accommodate at least 6 people. The rest room was also clean and stocked with soap.
The main drawback of this chain comes with a language barrier. To sing karaoke here, they ask you to sign up to be a 'member', which involves filling in a form with your name, phone number and address in Japanese. There is also a ¥100 fee.
If you can get past this hurdle, it's an extremely cheap place to go for karaoke. One person can stay for one hour for ¥380 before 8 pm. The “free time” option is only available for a maximum of 4 hours, but it's only ¥980 during the day per person. Considering that these prices come with food and drink, it's a real bargain!
Once you get past the initial inconvenience, and if you don't mind the basic quality of some aspects, Mega Crayon's doors are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to put your feet up for a while, eat, drink and sing to your heart's content!