Why Japan Has Become That Anti-Dancing Town in ‘Footloose’

The country has a decades-old “dance ban,” and the authorities are cracking down on clubs.

Kabuki-cho is a district well known for its bars, restaurants and nightclubs establishments in major commercial center of Tokyo, Japan. 
National Journal
Elahe Izadi
See more stories about...
Elahe Izadi
April 25, 2014, 10:51 a.m.

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.

{{third­PartyEmbed type:you­tube id:2lVRcI0z­s­vw}}

What We're Following See More »
What the Current Crop of Candidates Could Learn from JFK
1 days ago

Much has been made of David Brooks’s recent New York Times column, in which confesses to missing already the civility and humanity of Barack Obama, compared to who might take his place. In NewYorker.com, Jeffrey Frank reminds us how critical such attributes are to foreign policy. “It’s hard to imagine Kennedy so casually referring to the leader of Russia as a gangster or a thug. For that matter, it’s hard to imagine any president comparing the Russian leader to Hitler [as] Hillary Clinton did at a private fund-raiser. … Kennedy, who always worried that miscalculation could lead to war, paid close attention to the language of diplomacy.”

Maher Weighs in on Bernie, Trump and Palin
2 days ago

“We haven’t seen a true leftist since FDR, so many millions are coming out of the woodwork to vote for Bernie Sanders; he is the Occupy movement now come to life in the political arena.” So says Bill Maher in his Hollywood Reporter cover story (more a stream-of-consciousness riff than an essay, actually). Conservative states may never vote for a socialist in the general election, but “this stuff has never been on the table, and these voters have never been activated.” Maher saves most of his bile for Donald Trump and Sarah Palin, writing that by nominating Palin as vice president “John McCain is the one who opened the Book of the Dead and let the monsters out.” And Trump is picking up where Palin left off.