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You Can Now Legally Dance the Night Away in Japan

"No dancing" sign in a bar in Tokyo. Photo by Nicolas1981. CC BY-SA 3.0

“No dancing” sign in a bar in Tokyo. Photo by Nicolas1981. CC BY-SA 3.0

Japan's national Diet (parliament) voted to overturn a 67-year-old law that prohibited dancing after midnight in bars and nightclubs.

The vote was in response to requests from the public and recommendations from police and parliamentary committees about ways to make Japan more “visitor-friendly” in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The decades-old law, called the Law on Control and Improvement of Amusement Business (known colloquially as the fueiho), was originally enacted during the American occupation of Japan after World War II to combat prostitution at “dance halls” along with concerns that such areas promoted drug use and violence.

The law was so wide-reaching that certain dance classes involving paired dancing were technically illegal.

During the 1950s, following the end of the American occupation of Japan outside of Okinawa, Japanese police began to relax their enforcement of the law. The fueiho went effectively unenforced for decades until 2010, when a brawl in an Osaka nightclub resulted in the death of a 22-year-old student. Police began raiding nightclubs and shutting them down for licensing violations and arrested several DJs and club patrons.

There was a perceived crackdown on late-night dancing in Japan's capital, when the Tokyo Metropolitan government began to focus on public morals in Japan's capital.

The shutdowns and arrests starting in 2010 drew criticism from the public, who claimed the government was waging a “war on dance.”

Lately when I go to clubs in Umeda at midnight, folks are acting pretty silly. People are banging their feet on the floor and rocking from side to side. Somehow that's totally fine, but if you look like you're about to step on someone while you're in the middle of a dance move (and we're talking just a little bit here) security will suddenly come out of nowhere and say “no dancing please!” I couldn't help but laugh… even though I shouldn't.

An article in a 2012 morning edition of the Asahi Newspaper, a national newspaper in Japan, during the height of the police enforcement against midnight dancing drew a lot of support for dance lovers:

I read an article in the morning edition of Asahi titled “No Dancing in Clubs?” that I thought was fantastic. I was just pleading with my good reporter friend in Osaka, saying “Write about this!” This article by Ele-King is also worth a read (titled “Summer of Hate in Osaka”). We really need to be discussing this across various types of media!

Back in 2012, people also expressed disbelief regarding the comments made by law enforcement regarding club patrons:

I read the comment made by the Public Safety Division of Osaka in this morning's “No Dancing in Clubs!?” article in the Asahi and I couldn't believe my eyes. Take a look –> “Our first and primary concern is bringing to light the intensification of mass killings that occur when large groups of people are gathered in one place.

The same article also mentioned the signature-collecting campaign and people took to Twitter to do their part:

There was an article in this morning's national edition of Asahi about a club in Osaka called NOON that got searched by police. This is the first time the mass media has brought this problem to light, isn't it? They even wrote about the signature collecting campaign to lift the midnight dancing ban. I think this might help get things moving. Everybody, don't give up! One way or the other let's spread the word and make this issue common knowledge!

Revisions to the law will come into effect in June 2016. While dancing after midnight will be permitted, there will also be the stipulation that the club must have a light level of 10 lux, roughly the amount of lighting a movie theatre has during the pre-show.

Any clubs that do not meet the minimum lighting requirement will need to continue to abide by the current law.

A petition with 150,000 signatures requesting the government to allow all-night dancing was submitted in 2013. As well, overseas visitors to Japan are expected to steadily increase in light of the upcoming Summer Olympics, causing politicians to realize foreigners wishing to participate in Japan's nightlife would be confused over the midnight dancing ban. The lifting of the midnight dancing ban likely comes as good news to many people.

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