Police raid on Vanity club in Roppongi highlights ridiculous Japanese laws that make dance clubs illegal
In the early hours of Sunday, Vanity, a nightclub in Tokyo, was raided by police. As you can see from this TV news report, it was a large operation that involved many officers, including some who went undercover and customers:
The raid resulted in the arrest of three managers. Their crime? Operating a dance club after midnight.
It’s all thanks to a 1948 law. Apparently, in those days establishments that allowed people to dance after midnight were usually connected to prostitution and other crimes. The times changed and Western-style dance clubs came to Japan, but politicians never bothered to revise the law. As a result, owners of dance clubs are forced to declare that their businesses are “restaurants.” They are forced to place tables in the middle of what would be considered a dance floor. Signs reminding customers that they are not allowed to dance are placed at the entrance and inside the business. Staff sometimes walk around reminding customers that they shouldn’t dance. One of the managers arrested on Sunday allegedly told police that he was unaware that dancing was taking place inside Vanity.
Tokyo is full of such dance clubs, and they are almost all breaking the law. People dance anyway, and the action goes on past midnight. DJ’s play music and “restaurant” staff don’t try to kick out people who are dancing.
Enforcement of the law has been arbitrary. Everyone knows that these businesses are dance clubs, but police tend to ignore it and let businesses operate illegally for months or even years.
Last week, a group of people connected to the music and clubbing scene met with Japanese politicians and tried to convince them that it was time to revise the outdated law. The meeting got a lot of attention from the domestic news media.
Unfortunately, some media coverage has not taken the view that the law is outdated and ridiculous. Several newspapers and TV channels have highlighted the fact that between January and April 2013 police have been called to the area in front of Vanity 140 times. 125 of the calls took place between 10:00PM and 8:00AM. There are numerous other drinking establishments in the same area of Roppongi, but police seem to be blaming the clubs for trouble that is taking place outside in the streets.