Time to change a strange adult entertainment law in Japan

Time to change a strange adult entertainment law in Japan

Want to indulge in a bit of "revelry?" Sorry, in Japan that's illegal, meaning many of Tokyo's bars have to break the law just to stay in business
alcohol laws, nightlife, Tokyo night clubs
Young people in Japan dance crazily, apparently oblivious to the growing threats of strange fuzoku laws.

When stories of a police raid on Wall Street 2 emerged late last year, they met with bemusement from many. The club was closed for allowing people to dance after 1 a.m. under adult entertainment (fuzoku) laws -- perhaps the most surreal in Japan’s legal system. 

Under the laws, it is difficult to view most of the city’s nightlife as anything but illegal. Like the speakeasies of prohibition-era America, Japan’s clubs and bars are criminalized under draconian laws that make it almost impossible to operate a space that allows for dancing and having a good time legitimately.

nightlife, Tokyo night clubs, alcohol lawsDancing till dawn is still a popular pastime for the majority of Japanese people.

The mystery of fuzoku law

The fuzoku law applies to just about any type of fun place you can imagine and some that are maybe a little dodgy.

Cabaret clubs, mahjong bars, restaurants, bars, meeting places, dance halls, arcades, any establishment under five square meters that has seating and looks like it may be used for mischief are all included in the legislation.

Licenses for the above establishments are needed, and regulations must be followed. For our purposes though, we should focus on nightlife as we know it today, when dancing till dawn is a popular pastime for the majority of single people under 40, as well as a huge portion of married and older people.

Night clubs are included under Article 2, Part 3 of the Fuzoku Law, which explains that the institution is to abide by the rules stated. How it is possible for a night club to exist and abide by the rules is a mystery.

Under Article 15 of the law, clubs are also expected to “abide by government laws considering the areas surrounding the business,” including laws on noise pollution.

nightlife, Tokyo night clubs, alcohol lawsFuzoku laws leave clubs in Japan on shaky ground.

No noise acceptable

Those laws state that: “(When) noise (is) emitted during the nighttime operation of bars and restaurants, local government shall take measures necessary to protect the living environment, including restrictions on operating hours, in accordance with the local physical and social conditions.”

In plain English, that means that a local authority can make a decision on whether or not a club should be allowed to remain open.

Long-term Tokyo residents will remember the club Maniac Love, a mixed venue that was closed in 2005, one would assume, because of Article 15 of the fuzoku law.

Even restricting the sale of alcohol

The chances are though, that Maniac Love broke the law in many places. For instance, Article 32, Part 1, Clause 2 states that “In night hours (which in Tokyo law are between 1 a.m. and dawn), customers are not to partake in revelry (yukyou).”  

What that means, is that proprietors of night clubs may be breaking the law when they allow people to have a good time.

Another strange rule: Article 23, Part 6, states that “Authorities in the areas in which businesses are situated have the power to ban the sale of alcohol through the night.”

So if those in power feel like it, they can ban a place from serving drinks to customers.

nightlife, Tokyo night clubs, alcohol lawsJapan's bars sometimes remind you of prohibition-era speakeasies.

Nothing wrong with dancing

Numerous others leave clubs in a Catch-22: if they want to stay in business, they have to break laws.

Most club owners are unwilling to go on record and discuss the fuzoku laws, for fear of retribution. But the laws are occasionally used to close down events in Tokyo.

For example Club Yellow, the legendary night club that was replaced by Eleven in Azabu, had more than its fair share of trouble with the police, getting closed down on a sporadic basis.

Being present at one of those events, one would wonder whether the police were not causing a fire hazard, taking hundreds of people off a dance floor all at once.

Recently, m-flo DJ Taku Takahashi went on the record and said: “To be able to listen to loud music and dance like crazy is a right,” in an essay that laid out precisely why the laws are unfair.

In the essay, he explains that ID checks make sure minors do not get into clubs, the idea that clubs are scary places that people go to take drugs is a myth, and that soundproofing and security guards make sure that noise is not a nuisance for the surrounding area.

He wrote the piece after authorities prevented a New Year’s party he was to perform at from taking place.

Time for the laws to change

Takahashi has a point. Through the fuzoku laws, clubs gain a bad reputation that is undeserved. People like music. People like dancing. People like to drink with friends. Clubs are cultural hubs.

As Creative Commons CEO Joichi Ito told the BBC recently: “I was learning a great deal just working and hanging out in the nightclub.

"I realized that in the sort of working-class community of the nightclubs there was a lot of very interesting stuff going on … the communities, people caring for each other," he added.

Some people even meet future partners in clubs. For a nation concerned about a declining population, this should be a big plus. It’s time the laws came into the 21st century and reflected the good impact night clubs have on society.