Japan Amends Restrictive Dance Law, but is it Enough to get People Back on the Dance Floor?

Academy award winning composer, Ryuichi Sakamoto.

Japanese politicians amended a controversial law last month that has been in place for the last 67 years. The archaic and dated statute called “the Entertainment Business Control Law” forbade dancing in bars, clubs, and other venues.

The law was created after WWII by the American occupation forces because dance halls were often used as fronts for prostitution and enforcers wanted to get a handle on the oldest illegal profession. Fast forward to the 80s during Japan’s booming “bubble” economy when the nightlife industry flourished and the law was rarely enforced. Fast forward again to 2010 when the death of a student in an Osaka club scared the country and the police became more vigilant than ever about applying the ancient law. “No Dancing” signs appeared at clubs in Tokyo and Osaka by 2012, which significantly impacted Japan’s nightlife sector.

Academy award winning composer, Ryuichi Sakamoto, launched the Let’s Dance Petition Committee in 2013, which united club owners, musicians, and DJs in their goal of changing the law. The Committee collected over 150,000 signatures in support of their movement.

Tokyo club owner of The Room and leader of the band Kyoto Jazz Massive, Shuya Okino, along with international DJs who regularly perform in Japan like Theo Parrish, Jeff Mills, Gilles Peterson, and Laurent Garnier sent a letter to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe urging for the law to be amended. Okino said, “People in the nightlife industry negotiated with a group of bipartisan parliamentarians from the Liberty party and the Communist Party. Usually differences in policy between the Liberty Party and the Democratic Party, or the Communist Party, simply result in government in-fighting, so this case is very rare in that the law got changed.”

Okino believes that the awarding of the 2020 Summer Olympics to Japan was a significant factor in the changing of the law. “The Olympics coming is the biggest reason for the change. The government … promised to improve the economy by streamlining regulations for many fields of business – – nightlife entertainment is very important to satisfy foreign visitors.” The event producer, Kotaro Manabe, adds, “The Olympics provided a tailwind for club people and made it easier for them to deal with the politicians.”

General Director of the music industry body PROMIC, Kaz Michijima, said, “The changes mean the nightlife industry will grow. Those of us working in the sector see the hotel business as what we call an ‘inbound business,’ that is bringing international spending to Japan. With this new law I think the nightlife business can now be another inbound business.”

The June amendment allows club attendees to dance into the wee hours of the morning, but some consider this to be only a partial victory. The rewritten law states that the dance club house lights need to remain on at all times. Manabe doesn’t think that the amended law goes far enough. “While club owners now get the right to stay open until morning, they are bound by another restrictive ordinance. They have to keep the venue at a constant level of brightness. This will kill the club atmosphere!”

Club promoters and musicians are guarded with their optimism for the future of Japan’s nightlife. Director of party promoter Eggworm, Nick Clarke, refers to the Tsunami disaster on March 11, 2011 as a turning point for Japan. “It is one thing for it to be legal to operate such a business, it is quite another in actually finding a venue.  The industry was suffering a lot anyway pre 3/11 and I think the Tsunami and what happened since just made it all a little worse.” Okino is one of the club promoters with guarded optimism and feels that the struggle for clubs to operate is not over. “The police promised to have public meetings in each prefecture, and get comments on their websites, for one year in order to determine a standard to enforce the new law. So we should not stop lobbying and we need to continue the citizen’s movement to make the situation better for clubs.”

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