Japan’s clubbers may get a licence to dance

Tokyo's clubs are among those that have seen police raids. Picture: Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images
Tokyo's clubs are among those that have seen police raids. Picture: Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images
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CLUBBERS in Japan could soon have a licence to boogie, as the country’s government is considering relaxing a law that forbids late-night dancing in public establishments, potentially ending police raids that have shut nightclubs across the country.

Dancing at public venues is technically illegal in Japan, only being permitted until midnight in clubs with a special licence, under a law dealing with “businesses affecting public morals”.

The legislation was passed in 1948 to stamp out prostitution linked to dance halls, but over the years was all but forgotten.

However, police renewed enforcement of the law four years ago with a crackdown on bars and clubs after a student was killed in a brawl in Osaka.

Raids invoking the law spread to Tokyo and other cities, with police breaking up parties in venues ranging from techno clubs to salsa bars and arresting dozens of people on suspicion of gang connections or tax violations, while closing venues known for noise complaints.

Now a public backlash against the law has spurred debate in parliament and led the government to ease up as part of a broader deregulation drive by prime minister Shinzo Abe, who wants to stimulate the economy and prepare for an increase in tourism ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

“Politicians and authorities are feeling pressure as they don’t want Japan to be seen as a boring place by foreign tourists,” said Takahiro Saito, a Tokyo-based lawyer who spearheaded a movement against the law called Let’s Dance.

The group submitted a petition of 150,000 signatures to the country’s legislature in May 2013. This prompted a group of non-partisan lawmakers to urge reassessment of the law, and in April this year the Osaka District Court exonerated a club owner charged for violating the dance ban, setting a legal precedent.

This week the prime minister will submit a deregulation plan for government approval. This proposes removing the clause in the law that limits dancing to clubs with a special licence and bans all dancing after midnight or 1am. The government will have until the end of March next year to make a decision after talking to related parties.

However, because the law was often used as a pretext to act against or investigate separate problems such as rowdy club-goers, illegal drugs or suspected gangster involvement, changing the law may not end police intrusions into clubland.

Mr Saito said: “The police may strengthen their efforts to target problems such as noise and other nuisances to the neighbourhood. For conservative ­parliament members, there is still a strong image of clubs being a place where young people cause trouble.”

But Tsukasa Akimoto, of the ruling Liberal-Democratic Party, said: “This law is unnecessary. Why should dancing be illegal?

“Obviously the Olympics are a factor. It’s realistic to expect the law to be changed by the end of this year.”