For the last four years, Japan has been under a strange spell. From Tokyo to Kyoto, dancing in clubs and bars (or any public venue, really) has been strictly prohibited by law. Only a few venues lucky enough to obtain a dancing license were allowed to carry on, and even then, doors had to close by midnight or 1AM. Those who dared to flout the rules with an errant shake of the hips have been subject to the surreal experience of getting a finger-wagging scold by a staff member, or worse, dragged out of the club by police during a raid. This no-dancing law, called fueiho in Japanese, put a serious dampener on the country's otherwise thriving electronic music industry. Businesses suffered as club owners were pressured into removing dance floors altogether, lest they get charged with the crime of making people dance.
That all ends soon.
In a move that will surely bring happiness and relief to dance music lovers around the country, Japan's cabinet agreed on Friday to lift the ban on dancing. Their decision comes on the heels of a committee recommendation earlier this year, and will need to be ratified by Japan's parliament. However, this final stamp of approval is not expected to face further opposition. The tourism boost that Tokyo's 2020 Olympics will bring—including a wave of foreign clubrats that will surely swarm Tokyo's nightlife districts like Roppongi and Shibuya—is believed to be a major factor in the Japanese government's decision.
The changes approved by Japan's parliament will allow for a new category of clubs where people will be allowed to dance all night. However, there is a small—but significant—postscript: the lighting in these clubs must now be brighter than 10lux, the amount of light produced by 10 candles about three feet away. (Or, the approximate level of light in a movie theater before a show starts.) This new rule will supposedly discourage crimes and sketchy behavior.
Japan's ban on dancing is actually a remnant of anti-prostitution fuzoku laws dating back to 1948. The police started to enforce the outdated law after a string of nightlife-related scandals, including the death of a student outside an Osaka club in in 2010. Anxiety over the "corrupted morals" of Japan's youth, fueled by fear-mongering reports in the media, contributed to a larger nightlife crackdown.
A viral video made in response to the no-dancing law by Japanese rapper Shing02
The movement to repeal the law has been a long, protracted battle led by several prominent activist groups in Japan, which THUMP began covering in December 2013. A consortium of club owners, music journalists, and DJs called Let's Dance submitted a petition to the Diet with more than 150,000 signatures in May of last year. Others fought to raise awareness of the issue through viral videos, festivals, documentaries and parties. A group of lawyers joined the fray, lending their expertise to what was fundamentally a legal battle to begin with. That alliance of lawmakers was headed by Kenji Kosaka, a member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, whose help with pushing the movement into the upper echelons of Japan's notoriously bureaucratic goverment is irrefutable.
"Visitors from overseas would come here to Japan and they'd wonder why they can't dance, even though you can dance at night anywhere overseas," Kosaka told Reuters. "The biggest thing that will change in this law is that you can now dance at night."
Finally, the hundreds of thousands of dance music lovers, clubgoers, business owners, and artists can breathe easy. Their relentless efforts have paid off. Fortunately for everyone, neither Japan's police nor government was able to turn down the most effective pursuation tactic of them all: money.
Michelle Lhooq is the Features Editor of THUMP and a former Tokyo expat - @MichelleLhooq