Prime minister Shinzo Abe’s government seems to have a knack for getting people to let their hair down. Thanks in part to Abe’s bold economic policies—often referred to as “Abenomics”—traditionally cautious Japanese consumers are now buying up luxury watches, Honda is back in Formula 1 racing and now lawmakers want to relax strict rules curbing late-night dance clubs.
Until recently, Japanese authorities were fairly lax in regulating nightlife. That changed in 2010, when concerns about drug use and violence prompted a crackdown on illegal clubbing. The tools for enforcement were laws dating back to 1948 designed to govern brothels, strip clubs and similar sex-trade enterprises. Among other things, these laws required licensed clubs to have a minimum dance floor size of 66 square meters and to close by 1am. That squeezed out scores of nightlife venues and prevented those that were allowed to operate from opening during prime business hours. The crackdown also resulted in a series of unusually aggressive raids on clubs. A recent Guardian article tells the story of one Osaka club owner who was arrested and held for 22 days while police probed his bank accounts. All because 11 people were dancing in his club.
Though the effect may have been good for the “no dancing” sign business, it’s resulted in a poor trade in nightlife and, some say, the suffering of “youth culture.” But as the Abenomics era dawns, one thing Japan is looking to revamp is its culture—and that could mean amending the rigid nightlife laws. A bipartisan group of lawmakers led by Kenji Kosaka of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party are now weighing whether to scrap some of the rules.
“Abenomics encourages exporting Japan’s traditional culture, but should also capitalize on new ‘J-culture’ to lure foreigners and spur the economy,” said Kosaka, using the slang term for Japanese pop culture. “That’s why we should rethink how to regulate where such new Japanese culture emerges.” If they can put up with the noise, Japan’s politicians will have scored one with its youth.