What Does "Karaoke" Mean?

I love going to random dive-bars and singing to pre-recorded music in front of a bunch of strangers in the middle of the night. Even though I spend a lot of time at karaoke, I have never really thought of what the word itself means.

But it has for-real origins: it's a blending of Japanese kara "empty" and ōkesutora "orchestra".

Here is also a brief history of karaoke, while we're on the subject:

It's said that karaoke was invented by a musician named Daisuke Inoue in 1971. At parties in Japan around that time, the hosts usually provided some sort of live entertainment for their guests. After he was asked to play music at a bunch of parties so the guests could sing along, he realized there was a market for a machine that could do what he was doing. He loaned his machine ("karaoke box") to people, and they would pay 100-yen per song (the equivalent of a nice dinner). It caught on in Asia.

Since Inoue never patented his invention, a Filipino man named Roberto del Rosario got the patent to the karaoke machine in 1983. He called his machine the "Minus-One" and it used cassette tapes. Filipinos had been immigrating to Japan to become entertainers since the 1960s, and the karaoke machine helped them save a ton of money when they traveled to perform. Plus it was fun for non-entertainers alike.

When the karaoke machines didn't catch on in the United States and Canada in the 1980s, developers turned them into home entertainment stereo systems, with karaoke as a small side feature.

In the 1990s, karaoke became something that American bars offered its patrons. With that, the affordability of small karaoke machines, and the explosion of karaoke home video games (Karaoke Revolution, Rock Band, etc), karaoke has continued to grow in popularity.

Karaoke's come a long way!

Karaoke Studio for Nintendo, 1987

1990's Karaoke Machine

Karaoke Revolution for PlayStation 2, 2003

Thank goodness for karaoke. Seriously.


  1. Cool!!!

    But are you sure Roberto del Rosario didn't get the patent, not the copyright?

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