Takahiro Saito: The Lawyer that Continues to Change the Nightlife Scene in JapanCulture
Takahiro Saito is an active lawyer who has played an important role in the revision of the Japanese Adult Entertainment Law (hu-ei-ho), which drew attention from around the world. More recently, he released his first book “Rulemaking: A methodology to change the society practiced in the nighttime economy.” Saito - who is working day and night to improve the status quo of nighttime in Japan - spoke to us about how he spends his leisure time in Tokyo, what kinds of thoughts cross his mind, and about nightlife in general.
―You obviously have in-depth knowledge of music and culture; for instance, I know that you ｓare a DJ. What influenced you to step into this world?
Takahiro Saito I started playing the guitar when I was in junior high. I was in a band with some of my school friends. I continued playing in a band throughout high school, and even after I graduated, I did not go to college or start working – I just kept playing in the band. I originally wanted to do that – be in a band. It was a hardcore punk band.
―Wow, I had no idea (laugh). So, what made you want to become a lawyer?
Takahiro Saito I wanted to be part of a band – that was my aspiration. But the reality was tough. My band members were from Amami Oshima, and they were all very unique people. One member later joined the band Boredoms and also formed a band called “1 (one)” with Eye Yamatsuka. Another member moved into the jazzy-hip-hop scene, joining a unit called Cradle and performing with groups like Nujabes. The other members were talented, and all became somebody – but I was not that talented. I felt like I was getting nowhere. Then, I started to want to do something that was entirely the opposite and started thinking about taking the bar exams.
―That indeed seems like the opposite. It's awesome that you actually made it, though. So, moving to the role you played in changing the Adult Entertainment law – how did you start getting involved with legal issues related to dance and music?
Takahiro Saito A big part of music-related legal issues is copyright related. How to manage copyrights in digital distribution was a big topic. CD sales declined, and users began shifting from listening to experiencing – from software to live performances. Similarly, I thought regulations pertaining to actual venues were just as important as copyright law. I was surrounded by DJs and musicians, which was also a factor. So, when I heard about police raiding nightclubs, I thought there might be some ways I can be helpful.
― I'm sure you eat out or go out for drinks often due to your line of business; what do you do on your nights out?
Takahiro Saito Recently, I've been going to many bars that offer an interesting selection of music. I like a cozy size, a good atmosphere for making conversation, and great sound quality. Each bar has a unique set of features. For example, “Deus Ex Machina Harajuku” is a unique bar. It's very open and welcoming and reminds me of nightclubs in some ways. Another bar called “INC Cocktails,” where DJ KENSEI performs is also similar. I also love “Le Sang des Poetes” in Jingumae and “bar NIGHTINGALE” in Shinjuku Golden District.
―When do you DJ?
Takahiro Saito I used to listen to a lot of music on online-radios when I was studying for exams. The station was an LA-based not-for-profit radio station called “dublab”, on which artists like Daedelus and Flying would be featured as DJs. There was some talk about doing a Japan-branch for the station, and I started doing events with the music writer Masaaki Hara. Dublab would do DJ events at cafes, hotels, and restaurants instead of nightclubs. It was kind of a pop-up style radio station. I had always thought that DJs and their music could be good at venues other than nightclubs.
―How often do you do “dublab” events?
Takahiro Saito Events are held at irregular intervals at “Deus Ex Machina Harajuku” and “INC Cocktails” and regularly at the “TRUNK HOTEL” in Jingumae and the “marunouchi HOUSE” near Tokyo Station. This year, we also did one at “Hoshino Resort OMO” in Otsuka, Tokyo.
―Having followed the Tokyo nightlife culture for some time, what do you think are some of its unique features?
Takahiro Saito I think one unique feature of the Tokyo scene is that there are not many super-major clubs run by big companies. On the contrary, there are many compact nightclubs run on a tight budget but operated exactly how the owner wants to. I think it's interesting how a collection of small, niche clubs make up the club scene of Tokyo.
―What do you think are interesting features that are exclusive to small clubs?
Takahiro Saito Each club is original and unique, which makes the patrons of each club also unique, which leads to the formation of concentrated communities. You might feel intimidated in the beginning, but once you are inside, everyone is open-minded and very friendly. Those kinds of venues usually have great sound quality, and they tend to be passionate about music, too.
― Things are finally starting to happen in Japan in terms of the nighttime economy; how do you compare the efforts in Japan and overseas?
Takahiro Saito I had the opportunity to have some drinks with people visiting from Amsterdam, some embassy workers, and some young artists. They all loved music, and they said they go to nightclubs a lot, and they told me they go to get inspiration. There are all kinds of people at clubs, and their values can clash – and that becomes stimuli that you can take home. They say that the value of clubs lies there. Lutz Leichsenring(Berlin Club Commission) has always said that the true value of a club is not what happens in it, but how it influences the outside world and fuels the creative industry. He talks about the importance of increasing the value of nightclubs as devices that inspire film, fashion, art, restaurants, internet technology, etc. In Japan, I don't think many perceive much value in nightclubs. I hope the good aspects of the club culture get more attention and recognition in Japan.
― There must be perspectives that are accessible to you because you were in a band. What kind of future development do you envision for the fulfillment of the nighttime economy in Japan?
Takahiro Saito The revolution of the nighttime economy in Japan has just begun, so there is a lot to do. One recent project is called “Creative Footprint,” which I am working on together with night mayors of Amsterdam and Berlin as well as the Tourism Agency of Japan. The project aims at visualizing the cultural value of the nighttime using data and words. We are creating a list of music venues and investigating their cultural impact on cities. There are plenty of interesting places in Japan, so we are compiling objective information about them. This will objectify the merits of small clubs, and we can make use of this information in shaping national policy.
Photo：Reiji Yamazaki, Text：Jun Nakazawa
“The original offer was to write a book about the Adult Entertainment Law or nighttime economy. Not just the problems of the law but how to approach the rules and change them with our own hands. I wanted to write something focusing on that but with a little broader scope. As a lawyer, it is my duty to know and abide by the law. However, areas of the law that are outdated are not limited to the Adult Entertainment Law. I wanted to see if we could apply the same kind of approach to issues pertaining to other cultures and industries as well. I would like anyone that will be involved in the nighttime economy to read my book. A lot of people worked hard to realize the revision of the Adult Entertainment Law. I want more and more people to try doing business under the new Adult Entertainment Law, but in doing so, I would like them to have the knowledge about the process of the revision that was possible as a result of the efforts of many, many people, and hope that they will create an interesting night scene.”
Deus Ex Machina HARAJUKU
address：3-29-5 Jingumae, Shibuyaku, Tokyo JAPAN