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. email@example.com