El Barco raided by 50 officers, proprietors taken into custody

no dancingEl Barco Ltd directors Richard And Hideko Nishiyama were arrested in a raid on the El Barco nightclub in the early hours of Sunday, May 14 for a permit violation under the Night Entertainment Business Control Act (Fūzoku eigyō no kisei oyobi gyōmu no tekiseika tou ni kansuru hōritsu). The raid, taking place on the club’s busiest night of the week, involved over 50 police officers, immigration officials and riot police.


Richard Nishiyama’s wife, Kiyomi, has posted an explanation of the situation and a plea for support on the company website. Her original Japanese post can be seen here and I have published a rough translation of the whole piece on the GetHiroshima Blog here. Here is an exerpt explaining the situation;

The directors have been arrested for making/having customers dance without a night entertainment permit. There is in fact only one establishment in Hiroshima that actually holds all the licenses technically required under the Night Entertainment Business Control Act. Obtaining such a permit however places limits on the hours that a business can stay open. El Barco is registered as a late night business (mayonaka eigyō), however, that does not permit dancing. It is not possible to obtain both a permits, meaning that under current Japanese law it is legally impossible to run an establishment where you can drink and dance late into the night. It thus follows that this is matter of concern for all late night dance clubs across Japan. We also have reservations about the manner in which the arrests were carried out, with over 50 police officers, immigration officials and riot police raiding El Barco late Saturday night to arrest only two people for a permit violation.

Kiyomi is appealing to locals to write testimonials detailing the positive contibutions the Nishiyamas have made to the local community. Testimonials should include personal details (name, address, age and occupation), relationship to the Nishiyamas, and be addressed to Hiroshimaku Kensatsucho Kensatsukan. Ideally, they should be handed in on Saturday night (May 20) at El Barco, but can also be handed in at Cusco Cafe until the evening of Monday May 22. A petition can also be signed at El Barco.

The has been some conjecture about what the true motivation behind the arrests is. Whatever it may be, it seems fairly clear that it stinks. Is such a heavy-handed and thuggish approach by the powers that be really appropriate for the International City of Peace™? I wonder whether our esteemed mayor is aware of what has happened to Richard and Hideko. They have worked incredibly hard over the years in an effort to increase the range of entertainment on offer in our town. Entertainment that was as Mr Akiba so recently boasted in his diary column one of the factors in the selection of Hiroshima as one of Lonley Planet’s top 200 city destinations. How does harrassment and intimidation of a minority upon which the nation’s economy is becoming increasingly dependent fit into the Hiroshima “brand” image that Mayor Akiba is so keen to present to the world?

I’m sure there has been plenty of talk about this in the coffee shops and bars this week, and plenty of people decrying discrimination. That’s all well and good, but it’s important to remember that we can all can do something here. At the evry least write a testimonial or sign the petition. We can demand that the mayor address this issue by going here, or bring the case to the attention of other people in positions of power. No matter how you feel about El Barco, Richard and Hideko are good people and, whether you hang out at their bars or not, their efforts have benefitted us all. What has happened to them is wrong, and we should stand up and say so. As Kimiyo writes on the Barco site, if everyone’s efforts bring Richard and Hideko home just one day early then it is worthwhile. Do nothing, and you have no right to complain of shoganaiattitudes again.

So get down to El Barco Saturday night and sign that petition! There won’t be any dancing though…

Paul Walsh

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