Better in Japan? Karaoke and Purikura

Two of my favorite pass-times in Hawaii were of Japanese origin: Karaoke and Purikura.

In Waikiki there are a lot-- and I do mean, a lot of Japanese tourists, and in Hawaii in general, there are many people of Japanese heritage. Maybe for this reason, it's easy to find Japanese entertainment on Oahu.

My favorite places were GS Studios for karaoke, and a Purikura parlor called Fun Pix, both in Waikiki. Since I got hooked on these things at home, I needed to do them here in Japan to see what the 'real version' was like.

You'd never think that the "same things" could be so different!

Let's start with Purikura. "Print Club" is a large photo booth you enter with your friends, taking spontaneous photos based on chosen backgrounds. After the shoot, you choose your favorite shots and decorate them with "ryugaki" (stickers/decorations) on a touch screen. Each booth has unique options, such as special stamp features, seasonal backgrounds, and different touch-screen games.

In Hawaii, some of the booths were in English to accommodate non-Japanese speakers. The cost of one photo session was $6-8, a little expensive unless you split with friends. Fun Pix offered a frequent buyer stamp card, and when it was filled you got one free Purikura session.

After the photo shoot was over and your stickers were printed, you had to cut them by hand. (Purikura are usually cut into strips so each participant gets the same number of photos.)

Fun Pix was run by a husband and wife team. The woman had a lot of experience as a nail tech, so one part of the parlor was set aside as a place for her to do nails. Since they had a daughter, many of the puri on the walls were of her. It made the shop personal, and I liked bringing my business to them.

As for Purikura in Japan, it is hard to begin differentiating because there are so many. But in my latest trip to Ohsu I tried a Purikura booth with a friend, and it was substantially different. For starters, it was only 400 yen. The experience taking photos was about the same, aside from cute backgrounds unique to that machine, like Magazine cover styles and postal stamp frames.

The differences began when we exited for ryugaki. First, the machine asked for our "team name". We put in our names, and when we started to decorate, all the stamps were customized with our names on it. The "magazine cover" background was edited to have our names on it too.

When we printed our photos, the machine asked us for our choice of present: makeup or cotton swabs. A small pink package was dispensed with our photos, and inside there were heart-shaped blotting papers, a pink and white band-aid, and hot pink Q-tips. Perfect for makeup touchups before the next machine!

Also, there was no need to cut the strips. They were printed with serrated edges, so all we had to do was tear, and we each got an even number of photos.

GS Studios was probably the closest experience you would get to the Japanese karaoke box. The rooms were sound proof, nicely furnished, with climate controls, a disco ball, and an astounding music library. They had just begun phasing out the paper song books and replacing them with touch screen controls, when I moved. 

Karaoke is incredibly popular in Japan, but I doubt I needed to tell you that. So far I've been to a venue in Sakae called "Big Echo" twice. 

It's the building on the right. (I took this photo from the top of the Sky Boat, a larger than life Ferris Wheel across the street.)

One of the coolest things about Big Echo is that every floor has a different theme. The first time I came, we were on the 9th floor, which was totally modern and neon green. Last night, I went back with a friend expecting the same. We were given a room on the 5th floor this time, but instead of a room number, there was a kanji on our card: 'Fuji'. 

We were confused, but decided we'd figure it out when we got there. Imagine our surprise when the elevator doors opened, and we found ourselves in the genkan of a traditional Japanese styled hallway?

We stepped into the carpeted entry way, where a tenant asked us to remove our shoes. Then, we stepped up onto the polished wood platform, and were lead to our room.

The Fuji room had platform seating around the table.

In GS Studios and Big Echo, you can order food to your room if you don't mind paying a little more than usual. GS Studios had typical grill food, and local favorites like ahi poke and musubi. Of course Big Echo had a much wider selection of foods, from pizza to onigiri.

When you check into Big Echo, you are charged per 30 minutes, depending on the time of the day and your choice of drinks. 

You pay a flat rate which includes one drink, or if you pay slightly more, you have unlimited drinks from the soft drink bar. (The soft drink bar includes frosties, tea, coffee, melon soda, Kalpis, and other favorites.) 

The downside is, if you want to sing a long time it can rack up. At GS Studios, you could purchase an Early Bird Special and keep the room for eight hours, for about $12 each person. GS Studios usually gives you one free soft drink to start, too.

For the experience, I prefer Big Echo. The microphones are cleaned and covered before you enter the room, so you know your mic is sterile. The atmosphere, service and decor are top notch. 

For song selection, GS Studios and Big Echo rank about the same, surprisingly. In both venues, song selection would vary depending on the room you had and when that library was last updated. In general, there are literally thousands of artists to choose from, whether they are Japanese, English, French or otherwise.  

Also, both venues have touch screen remotes, which is much more convenient than flipping through cumbersome song books.

GS Studios' old song book.

GS Studios' touch screen system.

Big Echo's touch screen system.

Big Echo's has some sort of member card function. You can take photos with this touch screen system some how, and probably have them sent to an online album for a fee.

In Hawaii, it seems you get intimacy with smaller venues. Since the establishments are smaller, employees tend to remember you, which could be a pro or a con. In Japan, you certainly get the best experience, and the most entertainment for your money. 

These are generalizations of course, since I can't speak for every Purikura booth and Karaoke box. From my observations, I haven't concluded whether one is 'better' than the other. They both have different qualities based on their unique locations that set them apart. 

No matter what it is you like to do, I hope that you get the chance to travel and experience it in another culture. Purikura and Karaoke are just two pastimes; there's a whole world of activities out there and people to meet through them. 

At my university, I'm planning to join at least the International Communication Club, for foreign students as well as Japanese students. The committee organizes social events such as Pizza Parties, Barbecues and weekend trips, all for the purpose of intercultural and bilingual communication. 

Hopefully, we'll all get to do fun things like this! I'd love to take them to karaoke and see what they like to sing, or make memories with Purikura strips they helped decorate. 

Ah, sorry, is this too sappy yet? 

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