A visit to Japan will make anyone want to dance, but if you visit Japan, you better make sure to wear a watch if you plan to dance in public. After a certain hour, your late-night partying will turn you into a criminal.
A little history first: In 1948, struggling to emerge from the destruction of WWII, the Japanese government tried to crack down on gambling and prostitution by passing a strict law that restricted nightclubs. The law was called the Businesses Affecting Public Morals Regulation Law (風俗営業等の規制及び業務の適正化等に関する法律), also known as fueiho. Among other provisions, it requires a club to have a special permit to allow dancing after 11 p.m.. An early tool used to control the Yakuza, drunken American soldiers, and young people, it gradually fell into disuse as Japan developed one of the most vibrant late-night DJ scenes in the world.
That all changed in 2012, when Japanese police suddenly began to enforce the half-century old law. All over Japan, in Tokyo, Osaka, Fukuoka – Police suddenly started to raid clubs, jail owners, and shut down venues that had been openly operating for years without any trouble. In March, 2012, Fukuoka Police shut down the club “Keith Flack” and arrested its owner. Police arrested the owner of Osaka’s Noon, which had operated for 18 years, and held him in jail for 22 days. Suddenly, Japan’s vibrant and nationwide DJ world came to an abrupt end.
Why the sudden crackdown? Many speculate that it began when a group of masked men beat to death the owner of Flower, a club in Roppongi. When the club reopened under a new name a few weeks later, police swept in and closed the club under the law. Others believe it began in 2009 with the beating death of a Kyoto Sangyo University student in a street brawl. Still others believe it began with public concern over an “out-of-control club culture” that drove former pop idol Noriko “Nori P” Sakai” to test positive for amphetamines.
There is another theory to the crackdown, though. When Noon’s owner, Masotoshi Kanemitsu, was held in jail, he reported that his interrogation centered around his financial transactions. Many speculate that police have been using the raids as a convenient cover for more in-depth investigations into drugs and money laundering. After arresting owners, workers and patrons, they are free to interrogate them about a wide-range of offenses under the cover of enforcing the fueiho laws.
Whatever the reason, Japan is not sitting this dance out. Instead, a nationwide campaign called “Let’s Dance” is campaigning for the end of the fueiho laws. Last month, it appeared that the Japanese government is starting to agree. Japan does not want anything to imperil the revelry promised by the impending 2020 Olympics. With one eye set on the world stage, the Abe government is likely to make big changes to the law before the end of the year.