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Does the revised entertainment business law allow people to dance?

Kenjiro Iwamura
Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, Waseda University


A bill proposing revisions to Japan’s Entertainment Business Law was approved on June 17. It includes major revisions that remove all “dance” clauses from the law. I previously discussed this law in the Opinion article “Dance and the Entertainment Business Law: Why doesn’t the law allow people to dance?” in February 4, 2013. After several twists and turns, the law has finally been revised. In the coming year we will see the implementation and enforcement of new rules by the National Public Safety Commission, as well as interpretation and operation standards for the revised law. We will also see the implementation of ordinances set by local assemblies. Details of the revisions have already been extensively reported on, so I will not discuss them here. Suffice to say, the removal of “dance” from the law has nullified Category 4 concerning dance hall businesses (businesses offering dance venues but no food or drinks) and the exemption provision that waived the need for a Category 4 permit if a business had dance instructors certified by an accreditation body approved by the Public Safety Commission or the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT). Category 3 concerning businesses that offer dance venues as well as food and drinks has also been eliminated, and night clubs that offer dance venues and alcoholic drinks are no longer subject to regulation. However, this sweeping ease of regulations only applies until midnight. The revisions differentiate night clubs from “late-night restaurants” that serve alcoholic beverages after midnight. Night clubs are now deemed “special entertainment restaurant businesses” and require special permits to operate. As a result, businesses offering both alcoholic beverages and “entertainment” after midnight are subject to special regulations.

“Entertainment” regulation

It is a complex issue. On the surface, it appears night clubs have been deregulated because they are allowed to operate late at night, but the new regulations for “special entertainment restaurant businesses” may be stricter than those for Category 3 businesses under the old law. If this is the case, the revised law is a tightening of regulations and a step backward. Furthermore, the National Police Agency has stated that “entertainment” includes “piano solos in piano bars,” implying the term encompasses all live musical performances. In other words, live music clubs and festivals are subject to these regulations after midnight. As “late-night entertainment” was originally prohibited under the old law, the revised law appears to permit “late-night entertainment” for businesses with a permit, but let’s take a closer look. Under the old law, while illegal, “late-night entertainment” did not carry any penalties. However, under this revised law, businesses that provide entertainment and serve alcohol past midnight without a permit are deemed “unauthorized businesses” and may incur criminal charges, prison sentences of up to two years, and fines of up to 2,000,000 yen.

A case-by-case basis

There are provisions that seem trivial but are greatly concerning. As revealed at a general meeting held by the “league of lawmakers promoting dance culture” on June 24, the new standards for interpretation and operation in regards to “entertainment” include the stipulation that “contact, etc. limited to the extent required for someone sufficiently competent in dance instruction to teach customers how to dance for the purpose of imparting dance skills and knowledge does not fall under the category of entertainment.” This definition of “someone sufficiently competent in dance instruction” applies to “certified instructors” from the old law, while the “question of whether contact from someone else to teach customers how to dance falls under the category of entertainment or not will be decided on a case-by-case basis.” The revised law supposedly removed “dance” language and abolished the accreditation body system that acted as a perverse barrier for blocking emerging dance forms, but it appears the spirit of the old law has returned like a ghost to haunt us in the “entertainment exemption” provision. “Case-by-case basis” is a term that was frequently used by the National Police Agency when members of the Diet inquired about vague “entertainment” provisions during Diet deliberations.

The Entertainment Business Law is a law designed to provide legal benefits and preserve “good customs and a healthy environment” and the “healthy development of youth.” While I won’t delve into the intent of the law, we need to examine how far the revised law goes in its attempt to reform measures established for this purpose. The government’s identification and regulation of activities that “harm good customs” should not overlap with the policing of “culture” (to use more modern language than that found in the 70-year-old law). The “culture” or “consumer culture” (again, to use modern terms) originally targeted by the Entertainment Business Law includes activities that depart from the established order, deviate from the norm, create new value, and are an antagonistic presence towards authority. When placed within the negative context of “government-manufactured culture,” these activities cannot be integrated into and cultivated in its purest form within the regulatory system. Rather, they tend to step out of the way, as if feeding off of regulatory power. If we want to “prevent the harm of good customs,” we must first establish institutional guarantees that can take the social and temporal variation and fluidity of such “targeted activities” into consideration however difficult this may be. We must then take “measures to promote the improvement of business activities” to “contribute to the healthy development of businesses.” It is highly unlikely we will accomplish this with a “case-by-case” strategy that provides no criteria or fairness in regards to guarantees.

Forefront of future revisions

Movements for revision criticized the old law for its “outdated dance regulations.” This complaint, directed against the government’s identification and regulation of dance as something that “damages good customs,” has actually been raised by business operators for more than twenty years, dating back to the last revision. Even the National Police Agency states that the new revision takes into account changes in awareness regarding dance and real-life circumstances of the entertainment and amusement industries. People express serious doubts how recent these developments are and how these changes in awareness have come to be understood. In any case, this revision is the result of business operators’ efforts to specifically point out the “outdated” nature of the law and work of the Diet and government. Over the next year or few months, the implementation of local assembly ordinances throughout Japan will become the forefront for the revision of the Entertainment Business Law. Business operators’ participation in political action may become even more significant. The first step is for business operators to file petitions to local assembly members in their districts.

Kenjiro Iwamura
Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, Waseda University

Professor Iwamura graduated from Waseda University's School of Letters, Arts and Sciences I. After completing a master’s program in Latin American Studies at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies' Graduate School of Area Studies, he completed the doctoral program coursework at the same school, but withdrew before receiving his doctorate. He specializes in Cuban history.
His (co-authored) publications include Learn All about Cuba in 52 Chapters [Kyūba o Shiru tame no 52 Sho] (Akashi Shoten) and Lessons in World Geography Vol. 14: Latin America [Sekai Chiri Kōza Dai 14 Kan: Raten Amerika] (Asakura Shoten).