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Sunday, Aug. 5, 2012
Let them dance!
The police have been cracking down on dance clubs over the past year, arresting operators and shutting clubs by suddenly enforcing a law about dancing and other amusement that goes back to 1948, and related regulations.
The fines, raids and closing of dance clubs all over Japan are a repressive policy that unreasonably restricts young people from enjoying themselves and does nothing to improve safety or even so-called "public morals."
The clubs should be kept open and better policies created so that people can dance.
For years, the police tacitly ignored enforcement of the Entertainment and Amusement Trades Control Law. Many club owners also skirted the complex tangle of regulations and ran their clubs without strictly following requirements on venue size, alcohol sales and operating hours, as well as on dancing.
That "wink-wink" system worked well enough till the past couple years. The new enforcement of bans on dancing after midnight is especially onerous for many clubs since that's the peak time.
The bigger clubs can afford to meet all the regulations; smaller places, which are often the most unique and exciting, are being squeezed out.
All entertainment venues must obtain licenses, of course, but the inconsistencies, blind spots and excessive detail of many of the regulations is counterproductive.
Most problematic is the regulation stipulating that dancing can only take place in clubs with over 66 square meters of floor space, of which only a certain portion can be set aside for dancing. Concerns about decibel levels, lighting specifications, number of tables and other details should focus on safety first.
Whatever the original intention of the 1948 law, times have changed. New regulations that safely and reasonably promote, not discourage, dancing are needed.
While the police seem eager to close entire club scenes in some cities, it is not entirely clear what the police and other authorities would like young people to do at night. Perhaps they want them to go home and watch late-night TV, play video games or surf the Internet.
What young Japanese need most is not more technology and more isolation, but instead more safe, comfortable and meaningful places to socialize and enjoy themselves. Dancing is healthier psychologically, socially and physically than most of the sedentary, isolating alternatives.
The reasons for a crackdown now do not seem entirely related to crime or other problems. Many clubs did have problems with noise pollution, trash and other neighborhood conflicts.
Problems from fights, drugs, prostitution or other crimes have taken place, and these should be carefully monitored, but those problems are no more connected to DJ and live-music clubs than to other late-night entertainment businesses, and probably much less so.
Working out regulations that ensure safety for everyone in every club, and in surrounding areas, is not an easy task, but doing so is worth the effort.
Clubs need to learn to take responsibility, as any business does, but the police and government officials need to do their part to support, not ban, reasonable activities like dancing.
The government should remember that the "Cool Japan" marketing strategy was developed out of what was originally alternative culture.
The style, fashion and goods, as well as the attitude that gave rise to "Cool Japan," were mostly incubated in Japan's late-night club environment. The dance moves and outfits of the most popular, mainstream singing-dancing groups are derived from the same scene.
Subcultures and countercultures are always where the mainstream culture gets most of its energy. A truly dynamic culture needs freedom to create new ideas, unique attitudes and fresh innovations. Choking off the wellsprings of youth culture will kill off the vibrancy that made Japan "cool" in the first place.
As clubs in Fukuoka, Osaka and other cities have been forced to close, the music and dance scenes in those cities have started to fall apart. That is unfortunate since young people need more, not fewer, places to express and enjoy themselves.
The education ministry recognized the importance of kinesthetic activities for young people this year with the introduction of street dance classes in junior and senior high schools.
Ironically, though, as contemporary dance classes opened up in schools, the police started closing down actual dance venues.
Some of the oldest records of Japanese culture relate to dance. The bon-odori season, just under way in many places this week, is one of Japan's most enduring and widely enjoyed traditions. From children's TV shows to classes for the elderly, dance in Japan is seen as a healthy and meaningful activity.
Dance is a way of channeling energy into socially acceptable activities that help maintain a healthy mental state, release tensions and develop human relations.
Young people in Japan need a place to just be themselves and move how they like. Numerous famous celebrities like musician Ryuichi Sakamoto are circulating a petition called "Let's dance!," which asks the police to discontinue their crackdown and allow the clubs to remain open.
That petition deserves support.