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What Is KTV? Asia’s Favourite Pastime

Who hasn’t spent an alcohol-fuelled evening in front of a run-down karaoke machine with a microphone in hand? Though this may be a once-in-a-blue-moon affair for us Westerners, for many countries in Asia, this is a national pastime.

The art of karaoke is taken so seriously, that there are places specifically designed to do it! From private disco booths and family-friendly venues to fully-stocked bars and scantily clad KTV girls, these places have it all!

Whilst in Asia, it’s a rite of passage to visit one! So in that case, let me show you everything you need to know about the industry of KTV.

This article may contain affiliate links which I may be compensated for at no extra cost to you dear readers!

A Brief History

Karaoke was first created way back in 1971 in Kobe, Japan, by Daisuke Inoue. The budding musician and opportunistic entrepreneur found that many local businessmen would often sing along to recorded tracks in an attempt to impress their clients, no doubt while under the influence of some liquid courage.

Seeing an opportunity, Inoue, along with several others, began working on an audio machine that would play records for listeners to sing along to. He soon leased many of these machines to local bars around Osaka and Kobe where they quickly became a massive hit!

Soon enough, major companies saw the potential of this simple creation and gave birth to the karaoke industry that we have today!

What is KTV
Good evening everyone

From there, there craze spread to neighbouring Asian countries and around the world. By the 1980s, karaoke machines were combined with video monitors, which gave rise to karaoke clubs and brought the pastime to the mainstream.

That is when many Asian countries began referring to the craze as KTV, or Karaoke Television. Since then, it has been one of the most favoured pastimes for many countries in Asia!

What is KTV?

When Westerners hear the term karaoke, we tend to picture a grungy bar with a highly intoxicated middle-aged man screaming the words to Sweet Caroline or Country Road. Or even worse, an out-of-date set-up amongst a collection of empty wine bottles in a lacklustre house party. Yet for Asians, it has a whole different meaning.

what is ktv
The bright lights of a KTV. Photo by 松岡明芳, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

KTVs are run as private karaoke rooms that come fully equipped with screens, speakers, mood lighting, and comfortable seating. They’re a much more intimate affair and allow the privacy to conduct your own private nightclub.

Evenings spent at KTVs are not seen as ironic or corny, these are the best way to spend your evening, whether you’re with family or friends, or even if you have something more sordid in mind.

What Do You Find in a KTV?

With such immense popularity in KTVs, no two are ever the same. The constant amongst them is having private rooms that you can rent out for a set amount of time. The size of the room depends on the location, your budget and of course how many people you come with.

While some can fit a snug 4 to 5 people, others are monolithically big that function with their own private dance floors, microphone stage or even a pole to dance against!

More of a personal KTV room. Photo by Nishimuraya Kinosaki Onsen on Flickr

The lavish decor doesn’t end there. These venues are typically dolled up with glitzy mood lighting and disco balls to enhance the club experience. They’re stocked with leather sofas and controllable settings for the intensity of the displays.

At the end of each room will be an enormous flat-screen TV and a songbook nearby (either a real one or as a tablet) that detail the hundreds if not thousands of songs that they stock. Regardless of what country you’ll be in, they’ll have a healthy selection of English songs too, particularly the classics!

Extra Services in a KTV

Though the fun doesn’t stop there! As KTVs act as a one-stop shop for entertainment, most venues typically have additional services. Food and drinks are often sold on sight (and served directly to your room), which are either purchased in on-site stores or can even be ordered by a phone placed in the room. Others come with a fully stocked buffet!

Some of the seedier KTVs also offer some extra…”services“…but we’ll get to that later.

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Where is KTV Popular?

Since its inception, karaoke has played an integral part in Asian cultures and communities. Though the West took the craze in their own direction, for Asian countries it became a booming industry and one that continued to develop to meet the needs of the people.

KTVs advertised throughout the city streets. Photo by mengyeyue, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

KTV has become intertwined into the fabric of countries such as China, Taiwan, South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and of course, Japan.

Asia dominates the $6 billion karaoke market, accounting for more than half of the total value.

Where Can You Find KTVs?

Well, the simple answer, in Asia – everywhere!

They’re found along bustling city streets and even a few smaller venues in towns. Housing apartments along with offering services of a swimming pool and gym will also have a separate KTV room as standard!

They also come in the form of small booths, much like phone boxes, specifically for a quick sing-song! You’ll come across them in cinemas, shopping malls, subway stations and even airports!

What is KTV
Perfect for a quick sing-song

Why Are KTVs So Popular?

So what makes this craze so popular? While karaoke may seem like a quirky alcohol-fuelled blue-moon event in the West, KTVs have created a whole new appeal for Asian societies.

The intimate nature of KTVs allows for some much-needed privacy, a place to sing, party and dance within your own personal little nightclub. It’s a social event, a family gathering and a balls-to-the-wall party all rolled into one.

It’s an opportunity for buttoned-up societies to finally let loose while being shut off from the rest of the world. It gives you a moment of sheer entertainment and protection from any would-be shame.

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KTV Hostess Girls

“So, where do you work?”

The not-too-uncommon response of “I work in a KTV” from a sheepish young girl will undoubtedly usher a head-cocked response by someone reading between the lines.

Though the majority of these locations are family-friendly affairs that welcome anyone and everyone before their brightly lit screens, many others run a much seedier sort of clientele.

Hello ladies. Photo by Milosz1 on Flickr

Many KTVs will come stocked with a hareem of hostesses, otherwise known as KTV girls. Their job, as any other hostess would, is to keep their customers happy in whatever way they can. Hence why such places can also be referred to as sexy karaoke or gentlemen’s clubs.

Are KTV Girls Prostitutes?

So are these ladies prostitutes? No, not necessarily. I have personally met at least three ladies, each from different nations and social backgrounds, who were themselves KTV girls. They adamantly assured me that they did not sleep with any of their punters.

Rather, these are places for businessmen and politicians to gather to discuss important matters and let loose whilst surrounded by beautiful girls that flirt and do their best to stroke the men’s egos. Inscessent laughter, a gentle touch of the arm, and a whole slew of compliments that they wished their wives would.

A different sort of experience

Yet, don’t be mistaken, these are not brothels. Neither do the KTV rooms become a hedonistic paradise of sexual activities.

Sleeping with customers is by no means enforced, yet it is certainly an encouraged option. Punters enamoured with their hostesses will often negotiate what additional services they can acquire. From there, it’s up to the ladies themselves to accept the offer. If they do, then they’ll meet up outside of the KTV.

Would KTVs Work in the West?

Having spent the last 6 years of my life in Asia, and visiting KTVs from the heart of Beijing to the rural countryside of Indonesia, I keep asking myself – Why aren’t these places popular in the West?!

Though you might find some obscure ones in the bigger cities, why aren’t they more common? Bowling alleys and bars have plenty of customers, so why not KTVs?

They provide punters a private little party, to allow them to have fun away from others. It gives your friends and family a safe space to let loose, to have some fun and blast out your favourite tunes. Why not have a place to do all of this in your own mini-disco?

Time will tell if the craze arrives on Western shores. I for one hope it does.

Thank You for Reading! Check Out These Other Helpful Links!

Thank you so much for reading What Is a KTV? Asia’s Favourite Pastime! Check out these other helpful articles!

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