Over the last six months or so, Japanese police have been cracking down on nightclubs, breaking up illegal activity and arresting people. What’s going on in these clubs? Are people fighting, doing copious amounts of drugs, or counterfeiting money?
Believe it or not, this flurry of police activity has been about dancing. That’s right, if you dance past a certain hour in Japan, you might find yourself at best, asked to stop; and at worst, arrested.
It’s like Footloose, but without the whole “Jesus” angle or Kevin Bacon.
Japan’s Anti-Dancing Law
You can thank all of these dance-related arrests to a 1948 law, the Entertainment Business Control Law.
In the years immediately following World War II, Japan was a mess. The country had been leveled during the war and the central government had all but collapsed. Lawlessness ran amok throughout the country.
The Japanese government tried to crack down on some illegal activities like prostitution and gambling by passing the Entertainment Business Control Law. Unfortunately, this had unforeseen consequences. The strict law not only affects prostitution and gambling, but it also impacts nightclubs too.
Dance music 60 years ago
Dancing after a certain time at night is banned, unless you have a special permit. The permit, which is separate from the numerous other permits that night clubs have to apply for, requires the club to have at least 710 ft2 (66 m2) of space for dancers to get down.
This restriction might have made sense 60 years ago, but it certainly doesn’t any more.
Think about what dancing was like during the 40s compared to what it’s like now. People danced more formally, and to swing and big band music. In the 60+ years since the law, dance and dance music have changed dramatically.
Nowadays you don’t need enough room for a big band or a giant dance hall; a small dance floor and a DJ with a laptop is good enough for most people.
This law has been in effect for over 60 years, but hasn’t really been enforced by police until the last year or so.
In cities like Osaka, Fukuoka, and even Tokyo, police have raided clubs to stop dancing, close down the club for the night or, in some cases, arrest the owner and shut down the club for good.
Club owners are doing what they can to stem the tide of police activity. They’re put tables out in the dance floor to get in the way, posting signs around the club, and just flat-out asking people to stop dancing.
The main question on everybody’s mind seems to be “why now?” Most people are able to see where the law comes from and why it’s there, but if this law has been on the books for over 60 years, why is it only really being enforced now?
Some people speculate that police have only started cracking down recently because of club owners have been blatantly breaking the law for years. Japanese police can look the other way if a few clubs here and there stay open too late, but as more and more clubs keep on dancing into the night, it becomes impossible for the police to ignore.
Dance music today.
Ultimately, it’s hard to say just why dancers have only been prosecuted recently. When asked, Japanese police have been mum on why they’ve ratcheted up enforcement.
One thing’s for sure though: if you go out dancing in Japan, you’d best be on your toes.
Thanks to Henry for emailing this story in!