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License to boogie: Japan moves to ease dancing ban

By Sophie Knight

(Reuters) - Japan's government is considering relaxing a law that forbids late-night dancing in public establishments, according to a draft proposal reviewed by Reuters, potentially ending police raids that have shuttered nightclubs across the country.

Dancing at public venues is technically illegal in Japan and is only permitted until midnight in clubs with a special license, a vestige of a law on "businesses affecting public morals", which was passed in 1948 to stamp out prostitution linked to dance halls but over the years was all but forgotten.

The police renewed enforcement of the law four years ago, however, with a crackdown on bars and clubs after a student was killed in a brawl in Osaka, Japan's second-largest metropolitan area, and worries mounted about the country's youth culture against a backdrop of celebrity drug scandals.

Raids invoking the law spread to Tokyo and other cities, with police breaking up parties from techno clubs to salsa bars and arresting dozens on suspicion of gang connections or tax violations, while closing venues known for noise complaints.

Now, a public backlash against the law has spurred debate in parliament and led the government to ease up as part of a broader deregulation drive by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who wants to stimulate the economy and prepare for an increase in tourism ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

"I think politicians and authorities are feeling pressure as they don't want Japan to be seen as a boring place by foreign tourists," said Takahiro Saito, a Tokyo-based lawyer who spearheaded a movement against the law called "Let's Dance". The group submitted a petition of 150,000 signatures to the Diet in May 2013.

The petition prompted a group of nonpartisan lawmakers to urge reassessment of the law and in April the Osaka District Court exonerated a club owner charged for violating the dance ban, setting a legal precedent.

This week the prime minister will submit for government approval a deregulation plan, seen by Reuters, which proposes removing the clause in the law that limits dancing to clubs with a special license and bans all dancing after midnight or 1 a.m.

The government will have until the end of March next year to make a decision on how or whether to change the legislation after talking to related parties, the proposal says.

Because the law was often used as a pretext to act against or investigate separate problems such as rowdy clubgoers, illegal drugs or suspected gangster involvement, changing the law may not end police intrusions into clubland.

"If they cut the part referring to dance out of the law then at the very least they won't stop people dancing any more. But the police may strengthen their efforts to target problems such as noise and other nuisances to the neighborhood," said Saito.

"For conservative parliament members, there is still a strong image of clubs being a place where young people cause trouble".

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peteskswisdom June 23 2014 at 9:48 AM

Let them dance. Maybe it will take their minds off the radioactive inferno at Fukashima.

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1 reply
Carl W. peteskswisdom June 23 2014 at 3:18 PM

Yes, what really DID happen with all that??? Maybe people jumped to conclusions too fast, however, here in Pennsylvania, there were suspicions of odd births after "3-Mile Island."

Russia DID INSIST people move out of a very wide area, however, many refused. It was too much the only life they ever knew.

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sadiemae1214 June 23 2014 at 11:08 AM

Ban public dancing but turn a blind eye to prostitution? They should only work that hard to stop the illegal purchase of body parts from endangered animals!

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1 reply
Mr Doo from La. sadiemae1214 June 23 2014 at 11:38 AM

Good comment !

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dashdzl June 23 2014 at 10:33 AM

Freedom! As long as nobody gets hurt.

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Mike June 23 2014 at 1:01 PM

It's a good law since dancing often leads to more Japanese.

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2 replies
onionson Mike June 23 2014 at 4:39 PM

Yes, I can see how having people more intelligent that you around would be a problem for you. How do you feel about the rest of the 99.9999999999% of the people on earth smarter than you too?

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1 reply
James onionson June 23 2014 at 9:02 PM

"... more intelligent that you"?

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mdennish Mike June 23 2014 at 6:49 PM

Dancing and alcohol leads to more Japanese! Therefore....Drunken dancers lead to more Japanese!

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GB June 23 2014 at 12:50 PM

Those old laws crack me up. I read a story recently about a woman in the U.S. who was arrested way back when, for wearing a close fitting one piece bathing suit. I'll bet those folks would have freaked out over what passes for attire these days. Purple hair and nose rings and 'nip slips'. I even saw a photo of some beach enforcement officer measuring the length of a woman's bathing suit from the knee to the bottom of the suit. I'm glad I live now, as opposed to 'then'.

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1 reply
GB GB June 23 2014 at 12:51 PM

Oh, and let's not omit 'side boob' !

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1 reply
Carl W. GB June 23 2014 at 3:20 PM

:-) :-)

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Charlie June 23 2014 at 1:19 PM

Gee, I did not know that the Souther Baptist had such a strong influence in Japan. Dancing and lessoning to the Devil's music is a SIN and will send you to hell....

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1 reply
Doug Fordon Charlie June 24 2014 at 7:42 AM

That comment shows the typical Liberal mentality. Japan had a problem with prostitution and gangs so they decided to close clubs down at midnight and somehow you connect them to Southern Baptist's beliefs. Just strange.

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klunkerboy June 23 2014 at 12:27 PM

Japan boring? A country with 2000 years of emotional repression that makes everyday Britain look like Rio De Janeiro during Carnival?? No....not possible ;-)

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Hola Tavo June 23 2014 at 10:23 AM


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James June 23 2014 at 9:01 PM

Japan needs an 18-hour work week.

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fifiwereking June 23 2014 at 3:37 PM

in new york city, a club has to have a "cabaret license" to allow dancing.... an unlicensed club will get fined if 7 or more people are dancing inside...

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