Lawyer rediscovers love of breakdancing after nightclub trial

Miyuki Murakawa, Kyodo News

Posted at Aug 27 2016 09:29 AM

KYOTO, Japan -- The Supreme Court acquittal in June of a nightclub owner indicted for unlawfully allowing customers to dance at the venue had special significance for a member of the defense team.

Before becoming a lawyer, Motonobu Ishigaki was a member of a world-renowned breakdancing team. His first-ever public breakdancing performance had taken place at Noon, the Osaka nightclub at the center of the case.

Ishigaki, 37, first came across breakdancing as a law student at Ritsumeikan University in 1998. Captivated with the art form, he joined Ichigeki, then one of the leading breakdancing teams in the Kansai region, when he was a third-year student, and regularly practiced in front of Kyoto Station with other members.

Tracing its roots to New York in the 1970s and 1980s, breakdancing by some accounts developed as an alternative to fighting between groups of urban youths.

The art form incorporates many athletic moves, with dancers sometimes spinning on their heads and backs.

With little natural athleticism, Ishigaki worked hard to master the strenuous physical moves required to dance competitively.

After graduating from Ritsumeikan, he continued to improve his breakdancing techniques while working as an instructor at a dance school.

Ishigaki was a member of the Ichigeki team that represented Japan at the Battle of the Year, one the world's premiere breakdancing competitions, in Germany in 2005.

The team's performances, which earned it first place in the showcase and second in the main battle event, are still lauded by breakdancing aficionados.

Just before the event, however, Ishigaki began to wonder if he should continue his life as a dancer. He wanted to contribute to the creation of a society where all people could express themselves and respect each other's characters.

Ishigaki then recalled that he had a dream of pursuing a legal career when he joined the law faculty of Ritsumeikan. He enrolled in law school and passed the bar exam in 2010.

Ishigaki heard of the so-called "club trial" soon after he began working as a lawyer in Kyoto. The owner of Noon was arrested in April 2012 for allowing customers to dance and serving alcoholic beverages without the National Public Safety Commission's permission. The owner was indicted under a 1948 law governing nightclubs, sex parlors and other establishments that affect public morals.

With the owner pleading his innocence, Ishigaki volunteered his services for the defense team. In mounting a legal defense, he argued Noon had held various music and other events on its premises to foster youth culture.

In April 2014, the Osaka District Court acquitted the defendant on the grounds that Noon had not violated laws to uphold public morals. The ruling acknowledged that events at the nightclub fell within a range protected under freedom of expression, and said provisions in the sex industry law could restrict this freedom.

In June this year, the Supreme Court finalized the defendant's innocence, which Ishigaki said affirmed his own sense of purpose.

In April, for the first time in 10 years, he entered a dance battle competition held in Kyoto. He said he decided to re-enter the world of breakdancing after the club trial re-awakened his love for the art form.

Ishigaki now visits a gym almost every morning to practice dancing before he goes to his office. Once a week, he also practices with younger dancers late at night.

Ishigaki had always worried about a "balance of relations with people around him," said Katsunori Kakiguchi, a 36-year-old fellow dancer who has known Ishigaki for 15 years. "He now voices his ideas. He has changed since he became a lawyer," Kakiguchi added.

"Dance has power to change people," Ishigaki said.

Breakdancing, created by young people on the margins of society, has helped some underprivileged youth escape poverty in the United States. Ishigaki has met many hardworking breakdancers with criminal records.

"I couldn't have passed the bar exam without the experience of dancing," Ishigaki said.

"As a lawyer and active dancer, I want to repay my indebtedness to people involved in dancing."