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Tokyo's Club Scene under Threat

Tokyo’s club scene is under threat from an outdated law created to fight prostitution

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“Humans eat, reproduce and sleep. And they dance,” says Naohiro Ukawa, founder of live streaming studio Dommune. But in Japan these days you get arrested for dancing…

This started back in 2010 when a university student died in a fight outside a club in Osaka. Clubs had always been portrayed as dangerous places by Japanese mainstream media and now societal pressure exploded. The police clamped down and over the next year and a half, dozens of clubs were closed. Four years later the Japanese club scene is still in crisis, and even a single dancer can mean the end to a club.

The police makes use of the Businesses Affecting Public Morals Regulation Law, popularly know as fueiho. This law, created in 1948 during Japan’s chaotic post-war years when prostitution was rampant, requires that an establishment obtains a license in order to allow dancing on the premises. These permits are only given out to places with a main space that contains at least 66m2 of unobstructed floor space. It must also close at 1 am. Japanese real estate is notoriously small, and 1 am is a rather unrealistic time to close a club.

The law was ignored for decades, but police now enforces it strictly. A movement has sprouted to fight the law, with lawyers, club owners and activists promoting protest on sites such as Let’s Dance and Dance Lawyers.

Two days ago, Real Scenes films posted an excellent documentary on the issue, which we wanted to share with you. Please tell us your thoughts or experiences in the comments below!

No dancing sign at Japanese club

Kjeld Duits About the Author

Inspired by the stunningly creative street fashion that exploded on the streets of Tokyo and Osaka in the late 1990’s, photo-journalist Kjeld Duits launched JAPANESE STREETS in 2002. This makes JS one of the first fashion blogs on the net, and the very first to cover Japanese street fashion.

Recent articles by Kjeld Duits:

Comment (日本語もOK)

Had a similar experience some years ago with two clubs I used to frequent. They were technically required to have a “dance hall permit” but this was only checked and enforced when politics deemed it necessary. Both places were punk/goth bars on a major street near a large college campus, so in this particular instance there were times that keeping the freaks in line and out of sight was the desired effect of forbidding dancing (examples would be around elections and Parent’s Day at the university). However, we knew what they were doing and getting a dance hall permit reinstated was expensive, so in an act of defiance that continued to generate revenue for OUR bar, we went out anyhow. We would drink, sit and play cards, checkers or chess with the music blaring just as loud as always. One time we even had a huge game of duck, duck, goose on the dance floor—with the cops watching it all.

Ms. Jody
Feb 14, 2014 (1865 days ago)

@Ms. Jody: Thanks for sharing this episode. Where was this?

Kjeld Duits (author)
Feb 14, 2014 (1865 days ago)

This was in Columbus, Ohio, USA. Ohio State University (OSU) campus. Duck, duck, goose happened at a place called Crazy Mama’s, which incidentally was the inspiration for the song “Mirror People” by the band Love and Rockets.

Ms. Jody
Feb 14, 2014 (1865 days ago)

@Ms. Jody: Oh, I thought you were talking about Japan!

Kjeld Duits (author)
Feb 14, 2014 (1865 days ago)

Are you being serious. I wanted to go to Japan one day and dance and hang out with people. It would be boring there if they took away dancing. They just can’t do that, they will do dancing underground, or some how find a way to dance. That’s just ridiculous that they would do this.

Tag
Feb 14, 2014 (1864 days ago)

@Tag: There are still places where you can dance, and by the time you get here perhaps the law may just have been adjusted. So come, hang out and dance!

Kjeld Duits (author)
Feb 14, 2014 (1864 days ago)

@Kjeld: Oh, no, not in Japan. Just relayed the story as it seems to have some common elements with what is going on in your world right now. Thought you may see the parallels too and find it kind of interesting.

Ms. Jody
Feb 15, 2014 (1864 days ago)

@Ms. Jody: Weird that authorities still seem so scared of dancing. I thought this would be a thing from the past by now…

Kjeld Duits (author)
Feb 15, 2014 (1864 days ago)

I think it’s because dancing is never just dancing. It’s steeped in cultural significance and that resonates in the shared world consciousness. It invokes emotions, translates ideas, and can be used to bring people together or divide them. It causes a very primal response and that’s why dancing (and music too) has been viewed as something that needs to be controlled.

Ms. Jody
Feb 16, 2014 (1863 days ago)

Gorgeous documentary… I really enjoyed how it portrayed the issue which is pretty complicated, and being aware of how rigid is the social structure and morals in Japan, I never realized the social importance of clubs. So at the end of the day – or in this case, night – clubs become the space where you can free yourself of the stiffness of daily life.. it´s like Hegel wrote about carnivals, is this place where the exception happens, the rules get lost. So if you want order, you need a momentaneous space to get rid of it, break them and allow people to throw off the frustration of daily life. When dancing becomes that release, it becomes wonderful to fight for that moment. I´m not much of a dancer but love to see how people is moving to reclaim that space. And at the end, is great how it shows the fact that if goverment doesn´t change, people will find a way to keep on dancing. (Love to read this kind of stuff here in Fashion Japan, cheers from Mexico) :)

Dariale
Feb 17, 2014 (1862 days ago)

@Dariale: Thanks for the detailed comment. Your summary is right on the mark. For centuries, Japanese matsuri used to play the role of the temporary space where the usual rules were suspended. Actually, many of Japan’s uprisings started during a matsuri. But for young urban Japanese matsuri are mostly irrelevant, and too far in between. Will do my best to widen the scope of articles on JAPANESE STREETS to include more stories like this one. ^^

Kjeld Duits (author)
Feb 17, 2014 (1862 days ago)

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