So you think you can dance, Japan?
Not so fast.
Dancing in Japanese establishments without proper licenses is banned under a broad law that's been on the books since the 1940s, called the Law on Control and Improvement of Amusement Business, or fueiho. To get those licenses, clubs have to close by either midnight or 1 a.m., and have a giant dance floor, which can be especially tough in condensed Japanese cities.
Just this week, a ruling came down in a Japanese court case testing the constitutionality of the dance ban. An Osaka nightclub owner was acquitted on charges that he violated fueiho, because, as the judge put it, there was "reasonable doubt that the club allowed customers to dance in an obscene manner that can disturb sexual morals." At the same time, the court upheld the constitutionality and intent of the law, saying it was needed.
Fueiho covers general decency, including the sex industry, and there has been heightened enforcement and changes to the law at various points over the years. The most recent crackdown on dancing began around 2010, apparently stemming from the death of a 22-year-old university student who had been in a fight that began in one of Osaka's famous nightclub districts. His death had followed other high-profile incidents, and the police began widespread enforcement. Soon, clubbers in other cities began to feel the pinch.
Go to Japan, and you might find an establishment with both a dance floor and a "no dancing" sign. And that disconnect has given rise to a growing backlash. A group called Let's Dance, which includes Japan's biggest nightclub owners and DJs (remember, Japan is home to one of the hottest clubbing scenes in the world), delivered a petition with more than 150,000 signatures to the country's parliament last year. And a spin-off group called Dance Lawyers has entered the fray.
The advocates' efforts also center on repairing the perception of clubbing by promoting what they call its positive cultural value. While such a fight feels like a world away from those of us in the U.S., American cities have cracked down on their own dancing and nightlife scenes as officials cite reasons of public safety, security, and decency. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani used a 1920s cabaret law forbidding dancing by three or more people in places without proper licenses to shutter clubs he deemed as nuisances. D.C. officials cracked down on the go-go music scene over the past decade, which helped to push some clubs and bands away from the city and into the suburbs. The police even kept a "go-go report" of upcoming concerts.
Back in Japan, club-goers, DJs, and music journalists are keeping the fight going, despite legal obstacles ahead. The judge in this week's Osaka nightclub case said, "The regulation has an important aim of promoting the healthy fostering of young people."
It sounds like they need some Kevin Bacon circa 1984 over there.
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