Tokyo's Dance Ban

In most young people’s eyes, dancing and clubbing are interchangeable terms. Tokyo and clubbing are also equally synonymous. So, if I told you dancing was strictly prohibited by the Japanese government, that would seem to defy all logic. It would be obscure and outrageous, but altogether true.


When I first heard about the “no-dancing policy” in clubs, I thought very hard to identify when it could have been enacted. As a Japanese-born kiwi, I thought I had done a good job of keeping myself updated with the current affairs of Japan. So when I discovered this curious piece of legislation was enacted in 1948, I was baffled. How did I not know? After all the late nights boogieing in the cities of Tokyo, Fukuoka and Osaka, how could I have been ignorant that I was committing a crime every time I laid-low on the dance-floor?


The reason why I’d never even heard of “Fuzoku Eigyo to no Kisei Oyobi Gyomu no Tekiseika-to ni Kansuru Horitsu” (Entertainment Business Controls Act) is because only recently have the police started properly enforcing this law, increasingly cracking down in the past year or two.


sinzo abe

[Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe // Image Cred]


In 1948, the Act had a proper, legitimate basis to be passed through Parliament. Post Second World War, Japan was a mess, and law-makers needed to crack down on illegal activities in the entertainment industry, like prostitution and gambling. The Entertainment Business Controls Act placed several restrictions on the industry – such as a requirement of a 66 m2 floor space to be able to apply for a dancing permit (ha!). The restriction on opening hours varied across the country, but most areas require clubs to be closed by Midnight to 1pm.


But even after all this research, so many more unanswered questions continue to trouble me.


Firstly, what constitutes dancing? Sure, booty-dropping, twerking, or a sleazy grind you see in countless Lil Wayne and 50 Cent music videos should easily fit within the dirty definition of dancing. If I saw some side-stepping, head-nodding or hip-shaking, I would classify that broadly as dancing too. But what about a lazy, upper-body dance, the one you perform whilst glued to a chair? A gentle head-bob, or raising your hand in the air for roughly two or three strikes? To end this confusion, I searched the Oxford Dictionary definition.


To dance:

  1. To move rhythmically to music; typically involving a set sequence of steps


To my utter disappointment, it did not solve the issue at all - it made things worse. Does my movement have to be rhythmical? (My dancing could better be described as awkward, untimed and painful to watch). Does it have to include the lower-body? What about when the music stops?


But, the biggest question is why now?


tokyo no dancing


The original mischief the act was aiming to prevent is obviously not the reason the police have tightened their whip in recent years. Dancing in a crowded atmosphere is now socially acceptable, and drug problems can be tackled by specific legislation aimed to ban and regulate drugs. Why are they criminalising harmless club-goers for having a little bit of fun?


Several reports explain that the police are troubled by noise-complaints and fights in the club scenes. The death of a student in Osaka in 2010 during a drunken-brawl has had a huge impact on the police tightening their whip, too. But surely, with a population of 127 million, this ought to not be something terribly unexpected. (Not to mention the countless drinking incidents that occur in New Zealand, despite a population of 4 million people!) Arguably, the rest of the world faces far worse binge drinking cultures, yet their enforcement methods prove nowhere near as radical.


Club owners and DJs are naturally outraged by the recent crackdowns. In Fukuoka, DJ Ishino’s party was shut down by angry police in April 2012. After the raid, he tweeted, ‘dance is not a crime,’ which received over 3,900 retweets in the region. In the same year, Mr Kanemitsu, owner of the bar Noon in Osaka, was charged for allowing customers to dance without the appropriate permits. (Luckily, he was found not guilty on appeal this month).


Controversy has sparked further, as Tokyo recently won the bids to the host to the 2020 Olympics. Politicians and civilians alike have expressed concerns that tourists will perceive Japan as a boring country. These concerns and past troubles set in motion the ‘Let’s Dance’ Campaign - a group whom are firm advocates for freedom of movement and expression, and pledge that ‘dancing is a form of performing art that needs to be protected’. Or more simply, “fuck-you government, you are the ultimate buzz-kill,” and I couldn’t agree more.


Things have taken a positive turn this year though, as the government announced early this month that they will hold a cabinet meeting on reviewing the laws around the entertainment industry. Fingers-crossed, against the odds of the traditional, snail-like process laws are passed through the Japanese Parliament, they will have a solution in time for the 2020 Olympics. Seriously, Prime Minister Abe - Break it down. Let the youth dance away the blues!


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