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
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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.

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