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Club-Goers Rebel Against Japan's Dance Regulation

In Japan, dancing in the wrong place at the wrong time can get you in trouble.

Japanese law requires that public venues be licensed to permit dancing. Clubs and dance halls that are unlicensed can be – and are often – raided by the police. The Entertainment Business Act [ja] (“Fueiho” in Japanese) also requires venues to close no later that one o’clock in the morning. Venues that host all-night dance parties without a license are thus considered to be law breakers.

But on this island nation, home to a lively club scene, and the headquarters of world-renowned manufacturers of DJ turntables and loudspeakers, such as VestaxAKAI and Pioneer, the party-people are fighting back.

They have started a campaign called “Let's DANCE” [ja]. It is a grassroots-petition initiative based on the premise that the mere act of dancing should be exempt from legal restrictions. Campaign organizers collected more than 150,000 signatures on their petition imploring the Japanese Diet members to revise the Entertainment Law. The petition was presented to Diet lawmakers on May 20, 2013.

Photo from Let's Dance Campaign. Artists, citizens, attorneys and the Diet members advocate revision of the dance regulation

Photo from Let's DANCE Campaign Facebook Page. Artists, citizens, attorneys and the Diet members advocate revision of the dance regulation

Raids and Arrests

The Fueiho Law was put into effect in 1948 to crack down on prostitution in dance halls.

In the aftermath of World War II in 1945, Japan established a system of state-sanctioned prostitution to service allied troops occupying the country, recruiting women with newspaper advertisements [ja] that said, “Dancers wanted for cabarets, cafés and bars.” Less than a year later, the American forces issued orders prohibiting servicemen from visiting these establishments. This resulted in the sudden unemployment of thousands of women, many of whom resorted to selling their bodies elsewhere.

Tokyo Party Time by flickr user dat' (CC BY-ND 2.0) Photo taken on March 2011, Tokyo

Tokyo Party Time, March 2011, by flickr user dat’ (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Lawmakers at the time came to see the dance floor as a hotbed of clandestine prostitution and enacted strict regulations. Since then, a number of revisions to the law have been made.

Nightclubs have somehow circumvented the licensing rules for years, putting up with seasonal suspensions of businesses, arrests, and closures here and there. But in recent years in Japan’s second most populated region, Kansai, in the southern-central part of the main island Honshu, the police have started cracking down and tightening their control over the clubs.

Electronic music magazine Resident Advisor described the dying club scene in Kansai in January 2012:

2011 brought more closures, as club owners increasingly found themselves under pressure to conform to license requirements or face arrest. In March, big name nightclubs including Triangle and Joule were fined and forced to stop their all-night business.

Only a few months later in April 2012, police raided Club Noon in Kansai at 10 p.m. for allegedly “allowing people to dance in an unlicensed place” [ja]. The club was shut down, sparking outrage among club-goers and artists who were suddenly all too aware of the excessive power of authorities to shut down any unlicensed dance hall without a warrant at any time.

The popular outrage led to the creation of a four-day festival Save The Club Noon [ja] organized by 90 artists and DJs fighting for the right to party.

This movement is being documented by a film crew who plan to make a documentary that will confront the issue of dance regulation. The film is currently seeking financial support [ja] through a crowdfunding website so they can compensate artists and music copyright holders. The deadline to support the project is July 14.

Club-goers are Evil-doers?

One of the biggest nightclubs in Tokyo, Vanity Restaurant, was raided by police on May 26, and three people were arrested.

In the mind of rock musician and Japanese punk icon Akihiro Namba (@AKIHIRONAMBA), dance regulation statutes are an absurd oppression of youth. He commented [ja] on Twitter:

@AKIHIRONAMBA:
ダンス規制法。いつの時代も悪者にされんのは若者でさ。やっぱいつの時代も、体制は若者のパワーを恐れてるんだよ。って事は若者が本気になったら凄いって事なんだよ。

Look at dance regulation. They always oppress the youth and regard young people as evil-doers. The authorities are always afraid of the power of youth, young people’s power. . In other words, the youth can turn really subversive once their heart is in it.

For young sociologist and doctoral candidate Noritoshi Furuichi (@poe1985), it's an issue of government policies on culture:

@poe1985
児童ポルノ禁止法改定案によるアニメや漫画の表現の自由規制問題、風営法によるダンス規制問題、消防法によるライブ規制問題。文化を潰そうとしている人たちのいう文化立国、クールジャパンって何なんだろうね。

I see a tendency of regulations enacted to repress cultural expression; such as, the bill to revise the Anti-Child Pornography Act, which will restrict freedom of expression through cartoon artworks, regulations on dance thanks to the Entertainment Business Act, the Fire Service Act restricting venues for live performances. And this country’s business people think they can market Japanese culture overseas as content-business. I don't get their point.

As advocates seek wider recognition of club culture, an underground hardcore band called Down for Realize (@down4realize) voiced their concern that an effort to improve recognition of clubs as a healthy cultural activity might turn such venues into insipid places that exclude certain kinds of people:

@down4realize:
クラブをなくさないために、モラルを守ること。間違いなくそれも大事、一般市民に理解してもらうためにもそういう努力が必要。だけど何の危険性もないクラブが果たして魅力的?ルールからはみ出てしまう奴らがいていい場所でもあるはず。健全なクラブ。それはもはやクラブの意味あるのか?

I understand it's important that we behave well and act ethically, moreover, I ask the general public to foster an understanding of club culture in order to keep the clubs from closing. However, do we really want all clubs to be healthy and nice? I don’t think so!

Does a club have allure when you yank out that part of it that has nefarious edge? Will there be a place for outlaws and those outsiders who live in the margins of society? Will the imagined healthy and wholesome “clubs” still be clubs?

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