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NIGHTCLUB DEREGULATION

Japan shedding 1940s morality by relaxing rules on nightclubs

by

Staff Writer

Late-night dancing is just a step away after the revision of a law that forced nightclubs to close by midnight.

New regulations that take effect on June 23 will allow the music to play on until the early hours under some conditions.

The law was in force for almost 70 years and was revised in 2015 amid recognition that it was a hammer-and-nut approach to prostitution, which the restrictions were aimed at. Until now, clubs have been lumped into the same category as sex parlors.

Experts see it as the first big step for the adult entertainment business law — often dubbed the anti-dancing law — to shed its bad reputation. However, others worry that new ambiguities and overly specific rules leave room for authorities to impose a new clampdown on the entertainment industry.

How has the law changed?

The law revision, passed last June, will allow dance clubs to operate until 5 a.m. on condition that they do not serve alcohol. And in a measure to protect minors, it bans people under 18 from participating in club events that run later than 10 p.m.

Dance schools, which were included in the adult entertainment business category because their clients engage in dancing, are no longer covered by the law.

The rules establish a new category, tokutei yukyo inshokuten eigyo (nighttime entertainment restaurant operations), for restaurants and clubs that offer both entertainment and alcohol overnight.

Under the new rules, such businesses will need to keep the lights turned up. They must have internal illumination of more than 10 lux, roughly equivalent to that inside a movie theater before the show begins.

They should be located outside of residential areas, and the noise in the street must be below a certain level.

The floor for customers should be larger than 33 sq. meters, and there must be no locks on the entrance.

The law will also ban establishments from posting “pictures, ads and decorations that interfere with the healthy development of youths.” In other words, images with too much skin.

It took about a year for the new rules to take effect because municipalities needed time to create their own guidelines on operating times and where such restaurants and clubs can be located.

Why was the law revised?

The adult entertainment business law, or fueiho, was introduced in 1948 with the aim of regulating the sex industry. It covered adult entertainment businesses and other nighttime commercial pursuits, lumping dance halls and dance schools into the same category.

The law defined the adult entertainment venues that can serve food and alcohol while allowing patrons to dance, and required them to obtain a license and to close between midnight and sunrise — when demand is high.

The law was criticized for reflecting an early postwar assumption that dance halls and prostitution went hand-in-hand and that alcohol led to immoral behavior.

Many premises ignored the rule and police looked the other way. But around 2010, officers began a crackdown following neighborhood complaints about rowdy customers.

What triggered the revision?

In April 2012, Masatoshi Kanemitsu, owner of the Osaka nightclub Noon, was arrested and prosecuted for allegedly allowing customers to dance and for serving food and drinks at his establishment.

Alarmed by the sudden police crackdown, a petition dubbed Let’s Dance kicked off the following month to press for legal reform. Organizers gathered some 160,000 signatures and helped to push the government into considering legal revision.

Well-known musicians, including Ryuichi Sakamoto and Yoshihide Otomo, joined the campaign. They argued that so-called live houses — small, privately-run concert halls for hire by amateur musicians and bands — are venues that promote culture and thus should be encouraged.

In April 2014, the Osaka District Court found Kanemitsu not guilty. The Osaka High Court upheld the decision in January 2015. Chief Judge Masaaki Yoneyama ruled there was no evidence that Noon was offering services that could lead to indecent conduct.

Lawyer Takahiro Saito, who was also involved in Let’s Dance, said another reason why the government began supporting all-night entertainment venues was to boost tourism and economic growth.

“Many anticipated that clubs and a nighttime economy would boost tourism by bringing in more foreign tourists and help develop ‘cool Japan’ cultural trends,” he said.

Where will the clubs operate?

Restrictions are mainly aimed at reducing the disturbance for neighbors. Regional governments have demarcated zones outside residential areas where all-nighter clubs can be located.

In Tokyo, for example, there will be 638 districts where the clubs can operate.

Late-night operations will not be permitted in parts of Roppongi, Daikanyama, Aoyama and Nakameguro because the districts include residential areas.

Saito noted many clubs are currently located outside the permitted areas, adding that they may be able to dodge the rules by separating their dance floor and dining or drinking spaces.

Saito also said patrons must not be so rowdy that the neighbors are disturbed.

“Many people have a negative impression of nightclubs because they were operating under the early law,” he said.

Organizations led by musicians, including Club and Club Culture Conference and Playcool, are waging campaigns to get patrons to behave decently on leaving.

How will other establishments be affected?

The police excluded cinemas, traditional stage theaters and classical music performances from the new restrictions, but other entertainment businesses will be subject to the new rules if they remain open after midnight and also serve alcohol.

Saito said the concept of yukyo (entertainment) under the law is ambiguous and says it may include previously unrestricted activities.

“Live music performances are on the list, but how to define strolling guitarists who perform inside restaurants is unclear.”

Examples listed by the National Police Agency as entertainment include various forms of live performances, dance and music among them, as well as activities in which patrons participate.

“Sports bars are problematic too. It would not be considered entertainment to air soccer or baseball games on TV, but it would be if such screenings are held as an event, or if the operator cheers on the customers,” he said.

Other types of entertainment, including billiards and karaoke, are not covered by the new rules.