And That’s Official

no dancingBack in September, following the joint raids on the the clubs Cover and Twisters, I was asked by the Japan Times to report on the recent developments in Hiroshima’s nightlife. Notably the El Barco raid had caught the newspaper’s attention, though they hadn’t as yet been able to find the resources to follow the story up. I agreed to give it a go, and thought it could be a good opportunity to allow for all parties to have their say, not just those who had already been so vocal on the issues.

I wanted the piece to give as comprehensive an overview as was possible, even though the situation was developing from week to week. As bars took in what was exactly happening to the entertainment business, many went scrambling for cover, trying to keep their businesses afloat, while adapting to what seemed to be new draconian measures by Hiroshima Prefectural authorities.

Of course, getting all the information and angles from all involved was never going to be a stroll in the Peace Park. Furthermore, separating fact from friction on what had become such an emotive issue felt at times like having to solve a cryptic crossword where the answers were never destined to completely match up.

In the absence of official information, the vacuum was filled by opinion, anecdotal asides and, from time to time, the occasional chinese whisper that had taken on a life of its own. News that the late night bar Roxis had also been raided turned out to be untrue. The police had turned up on the same night as the Cover / Twisters raid to report a complaint about sound levels. News that spread like wildfire round the GetHiroshima festival that the bar Kulcha had been raided also proved to be an over-reaction. There had been a fight in the bar and the police turned up to sort it out. Such stories did little to clarify the reality of the nocturnal goings-on in the city. They fed on frayed nerves and touchiness that had taken root in the debates following the El Barco raid.

Confusion was further confounded by the fact that the discussions dealt with two separate issues that through the raids had become interlinked. The targeting of foreign residents and visitors on the one hand, and the actions the police were taking with regards club licensing on the other. Though, not least here on GetHiroshima, one side of the opinions, perspectives and arguments were being aired, from an official point of view there was little or nothing to be found.

I bullied Hiroshima City Office for answers. I bullied the Mayor for answers. I tried to get questions passed on to the Police Department. I spent many a late night out on the town trying to gain some understanding from those effected by the actions, or those who had something to add into the debate. I placed a classified ad on this site, which drew out some interesting invitations: the first, of the puerile hate-mail sort we have become accustomed to on the blog discussions inviting me and all foreigners to leave Japan, another from what seems like a lovely lady inviting me to help her access the $5 million from her deceased father’s bank account in Nigeria. Others wrote in with support for the local bobbies on the beat. And some with insights which proved valuable for when I finally did manage to arrange a date with officialdom.

In the past few weeks I have eventually managed to meet with representatives of Hiroshima City, and with their help, the Hiroshima Prefectural Police Department. Both meetings were characterized by careful treading on both parts. The City Hall officials they were very adept at not giving anything away that was outside their jurisdiction and refused to comment on the majority of the questions put to them. Namely, anything to do with prefectural politics and police policy.

If the 2-hour meeting with City Hall felt like a careful tight-rope walk, the 2-hour interview with the police felt more like a tight-rope walk with a game of russian roulette thrown into the bargain. Every question felt like it could have gone off in my face, and the 5 very professional police inspectors and two City Hall officials present would have made a fine audience for my circus act going awry.

Whereas for the Japan Times article I have tried to give an overall overview of all the perspectives involved in this clash of cultures, below I want to focus simply on the official responses to questions that have been raised here on this site, as well as extensively aired on message-boards across Japan, mixi discussions, the various blogs, and in all the recent talking shops across the city.

If we can fill in the blanks to all that has been churned up these past months, then maybe we can start thinking about possible ways forward. So, for better or worse, here’s the official line. This is policy. This is the law and how it is being applied. This is the view from the other side.

Why have the police started raiding bars and tightening the licensing regulations in Hiroshima this year?

Nagarekawa is one of the 11 entertainment districts selected by the government last year for a extensive clean up. These districts are known hotbeds of criminal activity. The lead objective is to make this district enjoyable and clean district that all people can enjoy. To enable all people, tourists and residents, to enjoy the area is a main concern. To enable a woman to also feel safe enough to visit the district at night. This is the basic objective of this policy.

Why were the foreign customers separated from the Japanese customers and held for ID checks on the nights of the raids on El Barco, Twisters and Cover?

The customers were separated into 3 groups: Japanese residents; American service personnel; and other foreigners. The reason for this was to allow for a smooth flow to what had to be achieved. As is the law, the police have to identify the foreign nationals. It is general police procedure to check the ID and visa status of foreign nationals at the scene of an offense.

So it is the law that you have to check the foreign nationals on such occasions?

Yes, as foreign nationals are required to carry their ID, the police have to check. So yes. It is not only such situations. You are advised to carry your foreign registration ID with you at all times.

On what grounds were the foreign customers held? Are they under suspicion of having committed any particular crime?

No. Though it is police procedure to counter criminal activity wherever that may take place. Foreigners are checked to ensure that they are not here illegally, and that they are carrying their ID as is required by law. This is not only in bars, but anywhere they might find themselves.

Is this a new policy?


So was this a joint operation between the Police and Immigration, part to confront a licensing offense, part to find out visa-overstayers and foreigners who weren’t carrying their registration cards?

This is the natural procedure by the officers. And as on the spot there were a number of foreign nationals it is natural to check the identity of the foreign nationals.

Should we advise the foreign community and tourists that they are going to continue to be rounded up for ID checks? Especially during this period of cleaning up the Hiroshima entertainment district?

They should be advised to always carry their ID with them, as is the law.

Should we advise the foreign community and tourists that they should not be surprised to find themselves in a situation where they are rounded up for an ID check?

Yes, they should be advised that that can happen and that they shouldn’t be surprised.

Who were the US federal agents involved in the raids on El Barco and Cover?

The police had information pertaining to the fact that US service personnel frequent these bars. As such, US agents were present.

Did the police really requisition a sports centre near El Barco for the holding and processing of people they arrested?

The police department, based on preliminary undercover groundwork, plans an operation to take into account the worst case scenario in any given operation. In the El Barco case, the worst case scenario might have involved having to process a sizable number of people. The police prepare facilities to deal with the worst case scenario.

Do the police feel pressure from the national government to find visa over-stayers?

The police department has always been committed to ensuring criminal activity is dealt with. Visa violations are part of such criminal activity. There is no new policy.

Foreigners can be stopped anywhere for an ID check. It has been claimed that a police officer who pulled a foreign driver over claimed that it was police policy to check any foreign person found driving a car. Can you confirm this policy?

That is a different department so we can’t comment. But we have not heard of that policy.

During Richard Nishiyama’s arrest, he was asked to sign a prepared statement written in Japanese and using language and kanji he couldn’t understand. Is this a normal procedure? What is your advice to people who might find themselves in the same situation?

The police, in a situation involving a foreigner, will provide the interrogation with an independent civilian interpreter. If a person, whether foreign or Japanese, is not satisfied with a statement that they are being asked to sign, the police advise them that they should definitely not sign it until they are satisfied with it.

Following the murder by Jose Manuel Torres Yagi of the elementary school girl last year, the Peruvian community have suffered adverse circumstances on many fronts. The day before Yagi’s court case was due to start, when all of Japan’s national media were in town to cover the court case, the Peruvian owned El Barco was raided. Why this specific date? Was it not connected at all? Was it a coincidence?

The police categorically deny that the Yagi court case and the El Barco raid were in any way linked.

Why was such a large police presence needed for a licensing violation?

The number of officers required is based on preliminary investigations beforehand. Based on information from such groundwork, the number of officers is decided upon. As a large number of foreign customers were likely to be present, to enable the action to go as smoothly as possible, the operation was on such a scale.

Why did the police target a busy Saturday night rather than a quieter weekday?

The police cannot comment on the choice of the night of the operation, save to say it was based on preliminary investigative work beforehand.

The El Barco, Cover and Twisters raids were all for licensing violations. What is the licensing situation for a dance venue?

A dance license has time restrictions. If you have a dance license, people can dance until midnight, or 1 o’clock in certain designated areas such as the Nagarekawa district. El Barco, Cover and Twisters are 3 of many bars that have been involved in the current crackdown on licensing infringements.

Is this just in Hiroshima Prefecture?

No, the law covers all of Japan.

Licensing of dancing in clubs is regulated as part of which law? Is it the same law that regulates the sex industry?

Dancing is regulated as part of the fuuzoku eigyouhou – Public Morals Law. This is the same law that covers everything from the erotic entertainment industry to drinking. Dancing is in the same section that includes Cabaret; Cafes (hostess and host bars); Night-clubs; Dance Halls; Pachinko parlours; Game centers.

What about Karaoke?

Karaoke is fairly complicated and confusing here. Karaoke is not part of the fuuzoku eigyou law, unless alcohol is being offered also. If a karaoke box offers alcohol, then the same time restrictions apply as to the other entertainment establishments (midnight / 1 am). If only soft drinks are offered, then there are no time restrictions.

But in many late-night drinking establishments, operating under the late-night licensing law, karaoke machines are available, aren’t they?

This is the complicated bit. If you are sitting at a bar and ask to sing a certain song on the karaoke machine, that is permitted. However, should the bar staff encourage a customer to sing (after midnight / 1 am), then that is illegal.

Many bars have over time built up a dance culture in Hiroshima. Why have they been allowed to do this, if it was against the law?

The police have always acted against bars when information has come to light that illegal activities happened.

But I’ve been at bars that allowed late night dancing when police officers have been present, and haven’t taken action against people being allowed to dance. Surely the likes of El Barco had officers attend on more than one occasion to break up a fight?

Where the police have found licensing infringements to be happening, we have always advised bar managers of their wrongs. If we don’t act against small crimes, then these small crimes will get out of hand. That is why we have to act against any illegal activity we encounter.

If people themselves choose to dance, even if a bar has no specific dance-floor, around their tables for example, would that be permitted?

No. If a customer starts dancing, the bar manager has to tell the customer to stop.

What times is dancing allowed under current legislation? Is it dancing that is illegal after hours or offering a space to dance?

Dancing is not illegal at any time of the day. If you have a private home party, you could dance as long and as late as you want. However, in licensed entertainment establishments, dancing is only permitted until midnight, or 1 am in the special designated areas such as the Nagarekawa district.

Home parties are okay then. So what about an event venue?

You can hold a late-night private party in an event venue. For example for an anniversary, a birthday or some such occasion. As long as it is a private party for you and your friends, the police have no problems with it. As soon as it becomes a business, then licensing is involved.

So once a year is okay?


4 times a year?

No. That would be considered a business.

Any advice for anyone wanting to find out about what is and isn’t okay in organizing an event?

Anyone wanting to organize and event or open an establishment should come and speak with the police’s Consumer and Environmental Protection Division if they are in any way unsure.

A lot of clubs / bars that have been instrumental in building the kind of nightlife praised by the likes of The Lonely Planet guidebook, are now going out of business. How does Hiroshima City feel about this, at a time when Hiroshima wants to attract more tourists to the city?

If a bar is closed down or closes down because of breaking the law, then that opens up an empty space for someone to start up a place that can work within the law. Whether tourists or residents enjoy late night dancing in a place that is not operating legally according to its license is not a valid concern for the authorities. A crime is a crime and must be dealt with.

Can you offer dancing in an establishment that also offers late night drinking?

The late night drinking license is a different license from the one required to permit dancing. It is possible to hold both. However, in the case of a bar holding both dance and late-night drinking licenses, dancing would still then only allowed to happen until the set times (midnight / 1 am). Then, if a bar gets everybody to settle up and leave the premises, they can let them back in for drinking only.

SH would like to express his gratitude to the officials and interpreters who helped compile this information.

The City Hall representatives also invite people to help with their voluntary clean-up work, Clean River, early evening every Thursday, picking up litter from the streets in the Nagarekawa area.

SH spoke to 5 inspectors of the Consumer and Environmental Protection Division of Hiroshima Prefectural Police, and a representative of the Citizens Safety Promotion Division of Hiroshima City:

Consumer and Environmental Protection Division
Second floor of the Hiroshima Prefectural Police Headquarters
Criminal Investigations Laboratory
26 – 3 Konan 2-chome, Naka-ku Citizens Safety Promotion Division
Citizens Affairs Bureau
The City of Hiroshima

Paul Walsh

Paul arrived in Hiroshima "for a few months" back in 1996. He is the co-founder of and loves running in the mountains.