Officials renew efforts to replace midnight ban with late licenses

Officials plan historic law change to allow dance, music clubs to stay open all night


Administration officials and lawmakers from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party are considering lifting a ban on dance clubs, music venues and some bars operating past midnight, an LDP source said Tuesday. An earlier attempt in June to revise the law failed.

Eyeing legislation this fall at the earliest, they plan to allow establishments to stay open until 6 a.m. by replacing the current outright ban with a requirement for clubs and bars to obtain a license for extended operations from prefectural public safety commissions, the source said.

Current restrictions relate to measures aimed at regulating the adult entertainment business.

It categorizes nightclubs with pachinko halls and sex parlors and was an effort to control establishments that might corrupt young people and become a source of prostitution.

Bars and clubs in this category currently require licensing from local authorities and are prohibited from operating past midnight.

However, many dance clubs are believed to operate without a license because if authorities know of their existence they have to close early. Law-enforcement authorities have been stepping up crackdowns.

The latest legislative plan comes after a district court in April acquitted former Osaka nightclub operator Masatoshi Kanemitsu of debasing morals by allowing his patrons to dance.

Kanemitsu, 51, said, “I am uncomfortable with (dance clubs) being bound by the murky provisions of the law on adult entertainment.”

Most club owners who are caught accept a summary indictment and a fine, but Kanemitsu opted for indictment. After the lower court ruled in his favor, prosecutors appealed and the case is now pending at a high court.

A number of musicians and intellectuals, including composer Ryuichi Sakamoto, have voiced backing for reform, calling the midnight ban outdated.

An LDP panel discussed revising the law in June but did not approve it after opposition from members who argued it would lead to an increase in drunkenness and noise.

Government officials and LDP lawmakers have now worked out a framework for revising the law, the source said, adding that it would include sports bars and other entertainment venues that serve food and alcohol. “It would be unfair if only dance-related places are covered by relaxed rules,” some officials argued.

A panel of experts at the National Police Agency will discuss the proposed changes and the government will then draft legislation to revise the adult entertainment business law, the source said.

The revised framework envisages allowing licensed establishments providing entertainment and alcohol to stay open until 6 a.m. They would be required to refrain from serving heavily drunk patrons and from soliciting passers-by on the street.

Sports bars and darts bars are currently allowed to operate past midnight so long as they do not organize events such as competitions.

If the law is revised, musicians at jazz bars and similar venues would also be allowed to play on past midnight.

  • Stephen Kent

    I really hope that this law is approved and enacted when autumn comes, if anything just to prove that in some cases the powers that be have the capability to legislate pragmatically based on reality rather than the social mores of occupation era Japan.

    Those who opposed the original revision of the law in June on the grounds that it would cause more noise and drunkenness obviously didn’t grasp that it wasn’t a law to allow new activites and behaviour but to decriminalise ones that already exist and are perfectly legitimate.

    *Please* pass this law and show the world that when it comes to it you can act with common sense.

    • phu

      While I do agree with you, the really sad thing is that apparently the only thing they can legislate sensibly on is dancing past midnight. Meanwhile, international relations are failing, civil rights are swirling down the drain (for Japanese as well as foreigners), economic policy is used more as a campaign tool than a vital requirement for Japan’s future… it’d be nice if this were the beginning of an upward trend in sanity, but I can’t seem to bring myself to believe it.

      Also, I think it’s hilarious that a nation whose primary purpose is the creation, training, maintenance, and after-hours intoxication of salarymen cites a fear of drunkenness as a reason for stopping this kind of thing. Really, guys? Come up with a better excuse; no one will believe this one.

      • Stephen Kent

        Yeah, I suppose I am just clutching as straws really.

        I also think it’s hilarious that the law is supposed to stop prostitution (apparently a natural extension of dancing). If you deemed that it was indeed necessary to stop prostitution then surely a better place to start would be the absolutely huge red light districts around most major stations in Tokyo.

  • Jeffrey

    “Historic”? Why is this historic? The ban was historic. First time I was in Japan in 1979 there were no laws prohibiting dancing, and clubs and bars were open past midnight.

    • Stephen Kent

      Actually there was, the law has been in existence since the late 40s I believe. It is only selectively and randomly enforced, and club owners never know if/when they will be raided and shut down for allowing people to dance. Ridiculous really.

  • lekevin lejames

    It can change the nature of a crowd and a neighborhood. It’s fun to be at a club that is open until 5AM, but it’s not fun to live by one.