Thoughts on 風俗営業取締法

‘Let’s go dancing, I wanna go dancing with you all night dancing, lets go dancing’. 

In a somewhat ironic twist, this very vocal loop was heard thumping through Air Tokyo’s Function-One system only a month ago.  Yet last week,  Air Tokyo announced that the club would be closing down following one final party on New Years Eve.  A true exponent of the Tokyo underground electronic music scene, Air has established itself as one of the worlds most respected authorities on the deeper sounds of house and techno since first opening its doors in 2001.  This news left a hole in my heart of myself and undoubtedly anybody else who has had the privilege of partying in that little gem tucked away 4 floors under the streets of Daikanyama. 

The close of such a venue highlights the greater issue at hand, the Businesses Affecting Public Morals Regulation or ‘Fueiho’ Law.  Established in 1948 after World War II, the Fueiho Laws dictate that dance is forbidden in nightclubs with dance floors smaller than 66 square metres or venues that after 1am.  Largely unenforced for 5 decades, this archaic law had started to be enforced by Police in Osaka, Tokyo and Fukuoka at the turn of the decade.  As a result, many venues were forced to close or operate in a grey area from a legal perspective. 

With Tokyo hosting the 2020 Olympics, there has been a massive push from Japanese citizens and reform organisations to amend the Fueiho laws in an effort to ‘globalise’ the city.  On the 24th of October following pressure from the aforementioned parties, the Prime Minister’s cabinet agreed to lift the Fueiho law, signalling an end to sixty six years of Japan’s war on dancing.  Although the Japanese parliament is still yet to ratify the decision, opposition to the law changes is not anticipated.

With these changes, a new category of clubs are established which can operate with late night dancing as long as they adhere to specific lighting standards. One of these new standards requires the lighting in these clubs to be brighter than 10 Lux, roughly the level of lighting in a cinema prior to the film beginning.  Whilst these lighting restrictions are not ideal, any easing of these laws is a step in the right direction. 

A huge motivation for starting this Lost in Nippon blog is to showcase and explore authentic underground experiences to be found in Japan.  Air was a staple of the underground scene in Tokyo and will be forever immortalised by Lost in Translation and the memories held by all of those who shared moments of joy under that giant disco ball.

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Prologue

Untz, untz, untz, untz.  Eyes closed, shuffling back and forth almost mechanically to the sensation of the sub frequencies hitting me in the chest, my senses are overwhelmed by the sound of an industrial techno rhythm echoing throughout this cavernous space hidden four floors below ground level under a classy restaurant in downtown Shibuya.  I open my eyes to see a room full of stylish people moving in synchrony like a single sentient organism.  I looked on curiously as the artist performing equips himself with an obscure electronic flute-like instrument and begins to play ad-lib over the thumping kick drum pattern.  The crowd proceed to absolutely lose their shit as the room ignites in ecstasy…. ‘Only in Japan’ I thought to myself.  I hold the firm belief that above all else, it is the people that inhabit a city that define it.  In my own experience, the Japanese people I’ve met have been some of the kindest and most interesting people I’ve ever encountered.  It is quite widely accepted amongst people here that nothing is too obscure for Japan.  After all, this is the land of cuddle cafe’s, underwear vending machines and pet robots.  This attitude permeates all areas of Japanese culture and makes for a very fascinating place to explore. 

If you consider yourself a food lover and love exploring strange new cuisine’s and dishes then look no further than Japan.  Upon arrival, the first dish I consumed in Japan was chicken sashimi (raw chicken)!  Admittedly, I ordered this dish accidentally but found it to be quite tasty and very different to what my western palette was accustomed to.  Specific areas such as Shinjuku in Tokyo and Dontonburi in Osaka (JNTO, 2015) are world renowned for their quality street food and Izakaya (Japanese pub) dishes and are absolutely must visit locations if you find yourself in Japan (Tsunagu Japan, 2015).

But perhaps the greatest draw for me to Japanese culture is the philosophical views held by society that are intrinsically Japanese.  Traditional values such as ‘Wabi-Sabi’ (the acceptance of transience/finding beauty in imperfection) are still very prevalent in modern Japan and are juxtaposed with a love of technology and a futuristic aesthetic.  With so much to explore, one could be forgiven for overlooking some of the more ‘underground’ experiences.  I look forward to authoring my guide on the less explored side of Japan (that you won’t read about in a Lonely Planet guide). 

ありがとうございました! (Thank you very much!).