Police raids on clubs in Tokyo have been gradually increasing in recent years. This isn’t particularly abnormal, because in virtually every country in the world, clubs often close down (and often open later under a different name) for certain things like unfortunate violence or other illicit activities within such establishments. However, the illicit activities that are most commonly the subject of police crackdowns is something that the dance clubs probably were not expecting – dancing.
Considering the law that banned late-night dancing was passed in 1948, you might expect everyone to know about it. But it was only in the last few years that such raids on dance clubs have become so prevalent. According to Reuters, it was the death of a student killed in a brawl in Osaka that led to the renewed enforcement of this law. As it stands now, dancing is only permitted until midnight, and only if the establishment is a licensed dance hall with at least 66 meters of floor space. Considering how small and dense a city like Tokyo is, you can imagine how difficult a requirement that is to meet.
The anti-dancing law was never intended to punish people for dancing, but prostitution. Indeed, Japan has questionable (i.e., ridiculous) views and laws on prostitution and the sex industry. For example, Japanese pornography without the mosaic censors on people’s genitals are considered illegal, though everything else can be shown; and vaginal penetration is considered prostitution, while any other sex act is perfectly legal.
The prostitution and pornography laws are not likely to change soon; but now that Tokyo has been given the honour of hosting the 2020 Olympics, the dancing laws might. From Reuters:
“I think 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 Diet in May 2013.
The petition prompted a group of nonpartisan lawmakers to urge reassessment of the law and in April the Osaka District Court exonerated a club owner charged for violating the dance ban, setting a legal precedent.
Some people have been trying to get around this ban. The Wall Street Journal reports on an event in Tokyo that is challenging the laws head on:
The fourth and most recent Techno-Udon event Sunday drew about 1,000 participants, with customers busting some moves on the soft noodle dough. The idea is that they aren’t actually dancing, but kneading the dough in the traditional way of udon masters.
“If police come to crack down on us for dancing, we can say, ‘We’re just making udon!’” said Shinri Tezuka, the event’s main organizer. So far, the police haven’t come, but they are welcome to, he said. [. . .]
Critics say the law is outdated and unnecessarily restrictive. Prime Minster Shinzo Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party has suggested amending it as part of a deregulation program, and the National Police Agency is also considering reviewing it. [. . .]
Starting as a small event with about 30 people in 2012, Techno-Udon spread through Twitter and Facebook . The first part of Sunday’s event ran from 7 a.m. to noon, and the second part from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Tickets cost ¥3,000 ($30) at the door.
For a country that is so obsessed with the reality of a plunging birth rate and a rapidly declining marriage rate, maybe banning people from late-night mingling isn’t the best idea. Maybe the police should spend less time cracking down on dancers and do something actually productive.