Why they don't want us dancing at nightclubs

TOKYO —

An open letter to Kevin Bacon:

Dear Kevin Bacon,

Japan’s club scene is dying. From Sapporo to Fukuoka, dance floors in some of Japan‘s most prominent venues are filled with motionless twenty or thirtysomethings, if at all.  Club staff make their rounds, interrupting unknowing or rebellious jubilants and pointing to the prominent “No Dancing” signs in major Roppongi clubs (your taste may vary), where they even give out paper warnings that read something like this:

              PLEASE NO DANCING

It’s prohibited by the Japanese law to dance in any commercial place in Japan. We don’t allow to dance in this establishment.

Thanks for the cooperation.

Poor translation aside, this is the state of Japan now. Some clubs even kick out dancers, although swaying like you’re at a high school dance seems to be acceptable (perhaps out of pity). In Osaka, where the War on Fun began in earnest two years ago, club owners are forced to close at early-bird hours like midnight; centerpieces of Osaka nightlife are becoming nothing less than a modern marvel in corrupt bureaucracy. Meanwhile, escort services are open all night.

The law to blame for what is basically the lidocaine shot to the pleasure center of Japan’s youth consciousness is the “Fuzoku Eigyo to no Kisei Oyobi Gyomu no Tekiseika-to ni Kansuru Horitsu.” Loosely translated, that lovely mouthful is the Law Regarding Entertainment Industry Regulation and Increasing Reasonableness (in the industry). A quick note: Although “Fuzoku Eigyo” translates to “Entertainment Industry,” “Fuzoku” by itself refers to the sex industry. Connection? I suspect so. 

The law was penned in Showa 23 (1948) according to e-gov.co.jp. It states, in short, that clubs with a floor space less than 66 square meters (710 sq ft) cannot obtain the proper license to allow customers to dance. There are other specifics to the law meriting a wordy explanation of course but the basic idea is as such, with an amendment in 1984 banning dancing after midnight. Just like your Bomont, Mr Bacon, dancing in the wrong places can get you in a heap of trouble.

If you’re keeping score with city realty in Japan, you’ve realized it’s quite difficult to pick up that much acreage even while sitting on a reasonable stack of cash. For clubs like ageHa, built out in the port area and currently the biggest one in Asia, you’ve got it made relatively; free shuttle buses into the club from other parts of town, relatively easy (if distant) access if you’re looking to stay out all night, and a bevy of professional dancers to round out the onstage entertainment. 

For smaller clubs (read: almost all of them) like Arty Farty in Shinjuku’s 2-chome, what was once a thriving hub of the fledgling Tokyo gay scene is stagnating under constant threat of raids. Isao Kawamura, owner of six bars and clubs in the area, was arrested for “violation” of the law and operating “without a license.” Oddly enough, acquiring as many licenses as you can get your hands on still doesn’t make you immune to police; according to a prominent local DJ in Osaka, a handful of major clubs voluntary closed down until they had acquired either a Live House license or other seemingly appropriate paperwork, re-open, and then be promptly raided.

But the big question is, why? According to music and entertainment writer Ryo Isobe in his book, “Japan: The Country Where You Can’t Dance” (踊ってはいけない国、日本), he says police were responding to intensifying complaints from nearby residents about loud music persisting through to the morning. Add in sporadic fights and stolen property, and you’ve got what is perhaps the most concrete case to call in the Anti-Dancing League.

Even big names like Takkyu Ishino, one of the biggest domestic artists on the scene, are not immune to the Fun Police. On April 14, the house lights came up when police shut down Club O/D in Fukuoka with the man himself was on stage, while angry clubgoers were asked to leave the establishment. Imagine Jon Bon Jovi coming onstage to play at a small venue only for the police to come in and say “Sorry fellas. I’m afraid you’re just too darn loud.” Ishino himself tweeted after that dancing is not a crime, but if Japan’s heavy hitting DJs aren’t willing to stand up and fight the good fight, we need to call in some serious muscle; I’m looking at you, Mr Bacon.

Given that living in close proximity to a club is going to cause you headaches at late hours, the remaining reasons for such a crackdown come down to speculation. One anonymous clubgoer reports police taking her into custody against her will earlier this year during a raid on a popular Tokyo hangout while searching for drugs. Although Japan’s long-running zero-tolerance stance on any form of drugs may seem plausible for increased raids, this doesn’t seem to be a goal the police are vocal about achieving, and would perhaps do better focusing on not laying out a big thick black-and-blue blanket on Tokyo’s smoldering nightlife. 

A rumor among Osaka locals espoused by some writers in the area is that then Osaka Gov Toru Hashimoto was looking to manipulate local businesses to drive entertainment to an area where he planned to have casinos built, effectively re-zoning the area through an old, outdated law. Other theories include your standard thoroughfare of ultra-conservative conspiracies, purification efforts (backed up by the Tokyo metropolitan government’s use of the word “purification” in an anti-sex-business purge in Shinjuku’s seedy Kabuki-cho district some years back), and other sundry rumors. In any case, this ancient law is rearing its ugly head through some judicious use by the powers that be.

As it stands today, the crackdowns are growing. Club owners are getting skittish, club-goers are beginning to lose their favorite hangouts, and Japan is losing a little bit of its soul in the process. There doesn’t seem to be an out for any party at the current moment, but some groups are fighting for their right to party. Let’s Dance (at http://www.letsdance.jp/) has collected more than 75,000 signatures of their 100,000 goal, looking to take their petition to the Diet. They’re gaining some traction with increased media coverage, but police are still ramping up their efforts to punish violations.

Japan loves a great Western celebrity, and Celine Dion’s got nothing on you, Kevin (can I call you Kevin?). Conservative Japanese audiences may not identify you with “Footloose,” but the people working to get rid of a law that is at best overzealous and at worst malicious will flock to you. The pro-dancing front here in Japan needs a good face to put on the cause and good publicity to give it traction; you have both of those in spades.  As a Georgia boy who would’ve suffocated in the ultra-conservative town of Bomont, do me and Japan this very large favor. I’ll buy the sushi.

Note: I’ll be watching this story for the foreseeable future. If you or anyone you know has experience with club raids in any part of Japan, I want to hear from you. john@thejapanshow.com

Author Infomation

John Matthews
John Matthews
John Matthews reports for National Public Radio (NPR) in Japan, creator and host of The Japan Show (thejapanshow.com - an in-depth conversation about issues facing Japan today), and is frequently seen & heard on radio and TV shows as a journalist (NHK, Nihon TV, local radio, etc). Comments to john@thejapanshow.com.
  • 3

    Lowly

    There is no fight-back here in Japan, they just take it lying down. There are so many good things about it here, and I will be the first to admit that respect for authority and "kejime" can make a lot of aspects of living together in a big society go easier. But it is just TOO universal, this "whatever you say boss" attitude. Sometimes you have to say "no. nope. ain't gonna do it."

    I pose the question to my fellow commentors: Could this happen in the US/ France/ Your Countyr?

    • Moderator

      Other countries are not relevant to this discussion.

  • 8

    Lowly

    Congrats to JT for getting out one of these editorials that makes sense, and has a point.

  • -3

    Nancy Foust

    Lowly, it already happened in the US at least on a local level. The massive crackdown on any level of intoxicated driving along with a refusal to improve public transit has killed nightlife in many less urban places. It isn't just drinking, being out driving after dark will get you randomly harassed by the police many places. Things like road checkpoints where you find yourself stuck for an hour or so unable to leave and forced to submit to police interrogation happen far too often in some states. You don't have to be guilty of anything to find yourself harassed simply for daring to leave home on a Saturday night.

  • 1

    papigiulio

    Osaka nightlife is not so bad actually, or at least they are trying hard to ignore the ba. Great clubs are still open: onzieme, grand cafe etc and there arestill some kick ass parties going on, unfortunately is until 1 am only.

    But yeah something needs to change because not many clubs are gonna pay a huge summ of money for a dj that can only play until 1 am.

    I want to change this law

  • 6

    tmarie

    There is no fight-back here in Japan, they just take it lying down.

    Indeed.

    Why young voters aren't fed up with the old guys running the country into the ground is beyond me! All the clubs i went to when I was single have been closed. And yet, sopalands are still open, still carrying on with illegal services with illegal immigrants.... Never ceases to amaze me how cops/government will look one way for one thing and then the opposite on another.

  • -7

    AiserX

    Big govt liberalism in a nut shell.

    The law to blame for what is basically the lidocaine shot to the pleasure center of Japan’s youth consciousness is the Fuzoku Eigyo to no Kisei Oyobi Gyomu no Tekiseika-to ni Kansuru Houritsu. Loosely translated, that lovely mouthful is the Law Regarding Entertainment Industry Regulation and Increasing Reasonableness (in the industry).

    Lulz,

    Orwellian.

  • 2

    John Matthews

    @tmarie, as it stands right now the movement to restore motion to the dancefloor is somewhat weak but it's gaining ground. They most definitely could use some support.

    @AiserX, Orwellian indeed. But the issue people seem to have against 'liberalism' as you call it, at least in the US, is that progressives are legislating equality, thus, big government. This is legislating 'purity' and is very much socially conservative, a party platform the left in the US at least does not commonly stand on. This kind of thing is generally associated with right-wing religious groups, which surprised me a little bit when I saw so much cracking down here. Japan is extremely conservative in many ways, but this one is not one I expected. It's disappointing.

    @papigiulio, I'm really glad to hear that. I'll actually be out and about in Osaka next weekend, and I'm looking forward to getting out and enjoying my "Japanese hometown."

  • 4

    cyclemate

    It is government beauracracy, and socialism. I am Gm for a company that owns 60+ bars, and this is a subject I am in costant revolt with the city office inspectors, the fire dept. inspectors and police inspectors. The health inspectors don't care. But read that again; there are four levels of flaming hoops needed to get a liscence. Yes, the police have a concern; but they have laws about how high and clear the windows (inside windows) must be, that are in the wall of a VIP room in a hostess bar! They decide if a bar can't have dimmer lights! The fire department sets the max. number of guests allowed and the number of chairs, and if ther can be a bench outside the door or not. Dancing is both fire dept and police, and the nature of the liscence applied for is determined by the number of staff, floor area and the nature of the fire alarm systems, the size of the stairs or entry doors, egress windows, and the amperage of your braker panel (controled by the power company, in related construction laws.) The city office gets their snoot in there with parking, alchohol and food delivery schedules, garbage removal and openning/closing hours.

    And the laws cahange club to club, area to area, and week by week. THIS, my friends, is the basic reason Japan will NEVER "recover" from Fukeiki (bad economy) ~ recovery is not allowed. It isn't in the regukations Bible(s)!

  • 0

    John Matthews

    @cyclemate: If your company owns any bars in Japan, please do get in touch with me directly, I'd love to talk to you about it. john@thejapanshow.com

    Also, I think the issue at hand is more malicious than what I assume are health and safety regulations. Are you suggesting that these laws are meant to create a high bar to entry (little pun there)?

  • 1

    lostrune2

    Six Degrees,

    We Allow Safety Dance.

    Be Safe.

  • 0

    gogogo

    This reads like this is new, this is the third or fourth time in 15 years I have seen the police crack down, they do it because in the 70's a girl was murdered after coming home from a club.

  • 0

    oberst

    wonder if they allow dancing inside a love hotel after 11 PM

  • 3

    John Becker

    @tmarie: I am amazed that anyone questions why dance clubs are harassed while soaplands are left unmolested, so to speak. Really? You're so naïve that you have to ask?

    Hint: B-R-I-B-E-R-Y.

  • 4

    marcelito

    John...yes and also possibly the fact that the oyajis making the laws are much more likely to frequent the hostess bars, soaplands and other pink establishments rather than the dance clubs. I guess they are happy to spoil other people,s fun as long as their own is maintained. TIJ.

  • 0

    Aliasis

    Hang on, did Arty Farty's in Ni-chome ban dancing? omg, it's a dance club, that cannot be true!

  • 0

    DreuxRichard

    I'm skeptical that the number or frequency of raids has been increasing of late, as John claims. These laws, and the raids they permit, have always been a part of life in the red light districts. How often they're applied fluctuates based on all the vicissitudes that affect the police force's attitude on any given month. If there's more of them now than a few months ago, it's probably related to the beating death that occurred at Flower, the immigration bust that occurred shortly thereafter, etc. The no dancing laws are like highway speed limits -- they merely permit police to enforce at their discretion.

  • 0

    JeffLee

    The sign says "any commercial space." The law, according to the writer, states spaces 66 meters or less. So best to ignore the sign, as it was written by people who don't know what they're talking about.

  • -4

    Simperial

    "Living in a community"... that's the point. If the problem is noise and neighbors that can't sleep because a bunch of people dancing, I agree. I love to dance but I also love to sleep and certainly I will call the police if every single night is unbearable because of noise.

  • 2

    Okinawamike

    wonder if they allow dancing inside a love hotel after 11 PM

    The Horizontal Bop only.

  • 1

    2020hindsights

    gogogo

    This reads like this is new, this is the third or fourth time in 15 years I have seen the police crack down, they do it because in the 70's a girl was murdered after coming home from a club.

    Oh well. If you put it that way it mates perfect sense. (I actually had heard that as well - I think it was 3 girls and one got murdered or something).

    But of course a girl could get murdered after coming home from a karaoke club, so that 'cover' reason doesn't hold water.

  • 1

    Bernie Campbell

    Sounds like an illumanati thing, Control of your soul! On the other hand I find one of the most freakin annoying thing is if Im in a place having a drink and two people start dancing near me and theres no place to dance; usually there tanked up, they dont give a hoot who they bang into and a fight could break out. There should be dancing only if the place is made for dancing!

  • 1

    BeauR

    Japan needs decisive town planning. Without it they are going to keep stumbling along in the dark. With town planning or proper zoning laws residents and clubs do not clash at cross purposes. However it appears that all of these items that they site in their crack down are a farce masking an agenda (as suggested previously) to curb the perceived crime which they believe results from these venues. On a positive note dance parties in country areas have not been harassed so much. At least in my area. We dance into the morning every weekend in Minakami without issue. I hope I haven't target my area by saying this.

  • 2

    tmarie

    **@tmarie: I am amazed that anyone questions why dance clubs are harassed while soaplands are left unmolested, so to speak. Really? You're so naïve that you have to ask?

    Hint: B-R-I-B-E-R-Y.**

    And you think the dance clubs haven't gone that route too? As someone pointed out, its the old gits that make the rules and decide the crack downs. Not as simple as just paying them off.

    So no, I am not that naive. It seems you think you know it all but...

  • -1

    oberst

    wonder if they allow dancing inside a love hotel after 11 PM

    The Horizontal Bop only. ....................................

    darn it, the gangnam style horsie riding move is so cool

  • 0

    oberst

    wonder if they allow dancing inside a love hotel after 11 PM

    The Horizontal Bop only. ....................................

    darn it, the gangnam style horsie riding move is so cool

  • -1

    bass4funk

    @John

    This kind of thing is generally associated with right-wing religious groups, which surprised me a little bit >when I saw so much cracking down here.

    That's absolutely NOT true. I used to be heavily into the dance scene back in L.A. and I have seen it change drastically. L.A. has gotten more strict and also last call is 1 am. And what is California, a blue state, a very highly liberal progressive, semi Atheist state. Las Vegas is a Conservative state, but without the heavy restriction codes that CA has. This is another reason why a lot of people drive there to party.

  • 4

    combinibento

    Las Vegas is a Conservative state

    I WISH Las Vegas was a state!

  • 0

    mrmalice

    uh? is this a joke or is this real? no dancing in dancings ? i once got kicked out of one in austria, because it was easter or something and you weren't supposed to dance because they nailed that guy to those wood boards thousands of years ago or something like that i don't know my german/austrian aint that good. Bouncer did kick me out tho ... is that real ? you are not allowed to dance in a dancing by law ????? How do you fix it then ? underground raves in cellars or something ?

  • 2

    Fadamor

    Lowly, it already happened in the US at least on a local level. The massive crackdown on any level of intoxicated driving along with a refusal to improve public transit has killed nightlife in many less urban places. It isn't just drinking, being out driving after dark will get you randomly harassed by the police many places. Things like road checkpoints where you find yourself stuck for an hour or so unable to leave and forced to submit to police interrogation happen far too often in some states. You don't have to be guilty of anything to find yourself harassed simply for daring to leave home on a Saturday night.

    LOL, the crackdown on drunk driving and the dearth of late-night public transportation has killed nightlife. News flash: You don't have to drink alcohol to party successfully in a nightclub.

    As for "interrogations" at checkpoints, I've been through them many times and they're always something along the lines of, "How are you doing tonight, sir? Have you been drinking?" Just from your response to that, they can tell whether to check you out further regardless of whether you're truthful or not. They're looking at your eyes and whether you're slurring your speech. The ones who would call that an "interrogation" are usually drunk and therefore are the reason the police have that checkpoint set up in the first place.

  • 0

    Fadamor

    Las Vegas is a Conservative state

    I WISH Las Vegas was a state!

    I don't. Even though brothels are legal in parts of the state, Las Vegas was instrumental in getting a state law passed that made brothels illegal in counties above a certain population (which just HAPPENED to be set just below the population of Clarke County - where Las Vegas is located.) While not a state, Las Vegas is a lot more conservative than most people think.

  • 0

    bass4funk

    How did I do that, Opps..lol Las Vegas, City, NV, State...duh! lol

  • -1

    Yubaru

    Tell this to the women that I dance with at my local snack! They are always available for a slow dance or two when someone else is singing karaoke!

    If the cops down here ever decided to crack down on "dancing" they would have literally thousands of oba-chan's in their holding pens........never gonna happen as the cops dance too!

  • -1

    moomoochoo

    No dancing at the disco......it's common sense (Note the sarcasm please).

  • 0

    Spanki

    just take off your pants and dance

  • 0

    Patrick Hattman

    Japanese authorities recently are trying to crack down on businesses-dance clubs, sexual services establishments, pachinko parlors-that in some, if not many, cases have ownership that is in part or whole foreign-mainly Chinese and Korean. They will undoubtedly include Japanese-owned ones too, but that's just too bad for them.

    All of the above also means that they want to direct gambling and associated businesses to new construction areas containing casinos and offshoot fun places down the road that the government and law enforcement people can control and benefit from financially.

    They are also doing this with an eye on the 2020 Olympics. The winning bid will be announced next September. If Tokyo gets it, the powers-that-be will have billions and billions of yen to spend on construction over the next seven years, and then they want to rake in the dough from the casinos and other places for many more years.

  • 2

    realist

    Japan has long been a country where fun is not alllowed or tolerated. This is a prime example. Its a country of insane rules that must be obeyed without question. Thats whats taught in their schools and in their homes. The entire country's educaton system is designed to produce people who will do as they are told, without question. That is why nothing ever really changes in Japan. That is why you have stagnation in Japanese politics. There is no difference between any of the parties. They are all tarred with the same brush, in this land of clones. The nail that sticks up will be hammered down. Im surprised it has taken the authorities sp lomg to clamp down on dancing in clubs. The only kind of dancing that is allowed is Japanese traditional dancing. If Abe takes over next month, be prepared for more of the same, amd worse. Japan is rapidly heading back to the Dark Ages.

  • 0

    tranel

    I didn't realize such laws existed. How can you outlaw dancing in a supposedly civilized country? Then again... somehow I'm not surprised.

  • 1

    anglootaku

    Japan wants you to become anti social

  • 0

    anglootaku

    Dancing is allowed, they bend the rules in Osaka and Tokyo otherwise = 0 customers.. though there is a crackdown going on which is kind of silly though..

    I wonder why lapdancing, soapland and other red light district mizu shobai business's allow for certain peoples professions to dance but they can not allow regular folks not to dance..

  • 0

    humanrights

    To have fun is not allowed in Japan unless you are in a sound proof love hotel..even then..

  • -1

    Kimokekahuna Hawaii

    Only a matter of time before a flashmob dance at Shibuya Crossing.. bangs the drumbeat for people to be able to express themselves through music and dance.. It is this kind of thinking that keeps JPOP down, why has KPOP become a top export and global sensation (Gangnam Style) while Japanese music is stuck in the 90's. Part of the reason that Japanese are too tight is that there is not enough dancing .. and Bon Dance is a dance right? The Japanese mens soccer team needs to take dance lessons why do you think the Latin clubs play better is because they play to a beat.. a natural rhythm inherent in the cultural music and drum beats of every culture. As a student of Taiko I see it does reflect the national spirit.. and to free that spirit there must be dancing.. what about swing dancing.. what about Hula dancing.. is that not allowed?

  • -1

    tsukki

    What the... it's illegal to dance in Japan?! I go clubbing at least once a month and dance all night until the first train, so I guess that makes me a criminal. How about making out on the dance floor instead, is that illegal too? 

  • -1

    Stetney Stet G Greene

    this is ridiculous dancing is not freaking illegal psh smh

  • 0

    Jeff Vachon

    Maybe they could allow "twisting" and "Watusi" as they don't require much space.

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