OSAKA – In what his lawyers have described as Japan’s first trial challenging the constitutionality of dance regulations, a court Friday acquitted a former Osaka nightclub operator of debasing sexual morals by allowing patrons to dance.
The Osaka District Court found Masatoshi Kanemitsu, 51, not guilty, saying his customers were not engaging in indecent behavior, but called the regulations “necessary and rational” and in the public interest.
Operators of dance clubs must obtain approval from local authorities under a 1948 law regulating businesses that affect public morals.
The law covers dance clubs, nightclubs, pachinko parlors and sex parlors, among other establishments. Kanemitsu did not seek approval for Noon, the club he ran from 2004 until his arrest in April 2012.
His lawyers argued it was anachronistic to believe dancing could corrupt sexual morals and that the law violated the right to freedom of expression.
Prosecutors demanded a prison term of six months and ¥1 million in fines, saying Kanemitsu’s customers were “drinking alcohol and dancing to loud music in dim light,” thus falling into the category of “hedonistic dancing that disrupts sexual morals.”
The lawyers claimed that the law, enacted shortly after the end of World War II, was aimed at cracking down on prostitution at some dance halls at the time. Continuing to apply it to dance clubs nowadays infringes not only on freedom of expression, but also the right to the pursuit of happiness, they said.
For a long time, most Japanese dance club operators refrained from obtaining approval to run such businesses because it obliged them to close during busy periods. Certified dance clubs must close at midnight, or 1 a.m. at the latest. Police, however, usually turned a blind eye to unauthorized clubs.
But the situation has changed drastically over the past few years, with police clamping down on dance clubs across the nation on the grounds of noise complaints, leading to the closure of several facilities.
The change has also spawned a movement seeking to exempt dance clubs from the law, and lawmakers have formed a group to amend it.
“I am relieved. I will ask for a revision of the law,” Kanemitsu said at a news conference after the ruling.