National

Disco's not dead: Japan grooves to bubble beat for Heisei Era sayonara

by Chris Gallagher

Reuters

Disco fans hit the dance floor and partied like it was 1989, reliving the glitz of the “bubble economy” heyday that defined the early years of the outgoing Heisei Era.

Tuesday night was the last chance for nostalgic Japanese to bid sayonara to the three-decade era, which ended at midnight with the abdication of Emperor Emeritus Akihito.

Emperor Naruhito’s reign began Wednesday, ushering in the Reiwa Era, which is said to mean “beautiful harmony.”

In an echo of the heady “bubble economy” days of early Heisei, women in slinky dresses grooved to the beat at the Maharaja Roppongi disco while mirror balls glittered and veteran disco personality DJ Osshy spun the turntables, with the party culminating in a midnight countdown.

“I used to go to Maharaja every Friday night in the early Heisei days. I feel like I’ve gone back in time,” said homemaker Yu Inada.

Inada brought for the occasion a white feather fan, a must-have accessory in the bubble days that she has held on to ever since.

“Back then everyday was fun. It was a gorgeous era. Nowadays things are a little plain,” she said before hopping onto the elevated stage to strut her stuff.

Shirin Higashi, a 54-year-old aesthetician, came for the countdown.

“I thought it would be more fun with everyone here than at home alone. I’m happy I could take part in the celebration,” she said.

Heisei began in early 1989 at the height of a stock market and real estate bubble, where it seemed money came easily and the good times would never end.

That exuberance fueled Japan’s nightlife, with discos like Maharaja and Juliana’s becoming a symbol of the fun and excess of the late ’80s and early ’90s go-go years.

But with the collapse of the bubble in the early 1990s and the subsequent “lost decade” of economic stagnation, extravagance was out and the clubs eventually closed.

Times change, however, and the strobe lights are coming back on.

Maharaja relaunched under new management in 2010 and has now opened six locations, targeting 40- to 60-year-olds, while Juliana’s reopened in Osaka in October.

DJ Osshy hosts regular Sunday Disco parties during adult-friendly afternoon hours, and last year established a national “Disco Day” on July 22 — the date when “Saturday Night Fever” premiered in Japan in 1978.

“Disco music has the power to make people move their body and feel energetic and happy, regardless of what era we’re in,” said DJ Osshy after his set.

“From kids to senior citizens, it’s something we all have in common,” he said. “It transcends generations.”