Japan Tourism Agency asks spa operators to accept tattooed foreign tourists

by

Staff Writer

The Japan Tourism Agency has asked spa operators to allow tattoo-sporting foreign tourists into their facilities in a bid to get more overseas visitors experiencing the nation’s onsen.

While there is currently no blanket ban on tattoos at hot springs, many spa operators opt to turn away people with tattoos for fear they will scare other customers.

In Japan, tattoos have often been associated with yakuza members.

The latest request — the first of its kind by the agency — urges onsen operators to give more consideration to the cultural backgrounds of tattooed non-Japanese tourists, Shogo Akamichi, a Japan Tourism Agency official in charge of tourism promotion, said Thursday.

The number of foreign tourists is increasing, and “with that change, we hope they can fully enjoy onsen in Japan,” Akamichi said. He added that the request will be “nonbinding,” meaning the decision is ultimately up to each operator.

The request does not extend to relaxing the rules for Japanese with tattoos.

Akamichi said the current no-tattoo policy at many onsen resorts had indiscriminately rejected people with tattoos, including foreign guests who wear them for fashion, religious or other reasons.

The agency asked operators to take measures such as offering stickers to cover tattoos and setting certain time frames for tattooed tourists to bathe, so as to separate them from other visitors.

The no-tattoo policy has often been a source of friction between spa facilities in Japan and foreign visitors due to differing views regarding the body art, the agency said.

In 2013, a spa facility in Hokkaido turned away a Maori woman from New Zealand with traditional facial tattooing, provoking a controversy about what tattoos mean to both Japanese and non-Japanese.

  • Ariko Honda

    Most tourists visit Japan BECAUSE of its wonderful, unique culture and traditions. To change customs that have developed over hundreds of years to placate the people who have tattoos (which incidentally, they cover up when they go for job interviews) would be sad and unnecessary.

    • 151E

      Come on, acknowledging and respecting the rights of others – i.e. not denying service based on appearance (as opposed to say disruptive behaviour) – is not that same as banning yatai or forsaking kagura dance.

      And as for your claim that foreigners cover up their tattoos when they go for job interviews, I recently noted when passing through immigration at Edinburgh (EDI) that one officer was covered in visible tattoos and had stretched ear piercings like the Maasai. That would never be allowed for a public officer here in Japan. But why not? After all, it didn’t prevent the man from doing his job.

    • J.P. Bunny

      Banning people with tattoos is not an ancient custom. It was implemented to keep yakuza and their ilk out of the baths. The teen-age girl from Scotland with the rose tattoo on her shoulder, or the native New Zealander are obviously not part of the Japanese organized crime scene.

      If Japan wants people to come and experience its unique culture (and spend money), it needs to realize that culture and customs are a two way street.

    • Kyle Kylie Myers

      I don’t disagree with you but it’s a lot easier to cover up tattoos going to a job interview than it is going to an Onsen until you want to get in wearing a long sleeve shirt.

    • sparkystiltskin

      君、論理的思考が苦手でしょう?
      ヤクザに外人がいるわけないだろ!

  • Ariko Honda

    Most tourists visit Japan BECAUSE of its wonderful, unique culture and traditions. To change customs that have developed over hundreds of years to placate the people who have tattoos (which incidentally, they cover up when they go for job interviews) would be sad and unnecessary.

  • M&M

    I went to a high end spa one day for relaxing myself and had some conversation with 2 tourists from abroad . They had tattoos on their bodies that weren’t sealed despite of that spa’s rule . All they talked were someone’s gossip and complaint against Japan . I felt so depressed and bad not did I see their tatoo, but their bad manner .

  • Charles

    Wow, lots of net uyoku gems in this comments section. Have a nice day!

  • Yuki

    I’d be freaked out if I saw tattooed people in a spa. Japan is a really safe country, but don’t mistake that for being completely safe. There ARE organized criminal groups out there, and at the end of the day you really can’t tell aside from the tattoo.

  • Jonathan Fields

    Actually, most spas will let tattooed people in. You just have to tell them when you make the reservation. They may ask you to avoid peak hours, but they will likely allow you to come.

  • Jonathan Fields

    Actually, most spas will let tattooed people in. You just have to tell them when you make the reservation. They may ask you to avoid peak hours, but they will likely allow you to come.

  • Roger

    This is a very welcome move. Hopefully spa owners will see they can distinguish between types of tattoos and enable more foreign visitors to enjoy onsen.

  • Mikko Salenius

    This would be really nice for someone like me who has been charmed and interested in Japan for many years, but been disappointed because of this policy. I have 5 tattoos and each one of them is very important to me. They tell about me and they have helped me survive. Covering them would be very time consuming and frustrating especially since I really want to experience a lot of spas in Japan and I’m even thinking of moving permanently to Japan. Hope this will become a standard in your country :)

    – Have a nice day from Finland ^^

  • AmIJustAPessimistOrWhat?

    For many years I enjoyed using sento (not natural hot springs, but heated hot water). You can stretch out, and their is a chance to meet ordinary people and talk to them. Especially talkative are the older men who have gone to the sento are their lives.
    In Tokyo I never saw a sento where tatoos were not permitted, and I have seen many people with tatoos, sometimes a half dozen obvious yakuza with full back tatoos would be there together.
    I belonged to a running club, and one new years morning several dozen of us went running, watched the sunrise, then went to an sento near Haneda airport for hatsuyuu (first bath of the year). The women in the group reported two older women with tatoos were there smoking cigarettes IN THE BATHWATER.

    Onsen are different, the customers tend to be higher class people on a holiday.

  • Eduardo Cuellar

    how about all the other businesses, bars, and restaurants in japan that don’t allow you in if youre a foreigner, regardless of whether youre tattooed or not?

  • pd1986

    Considering most of the users are japanese, and most of the japanese don’t like tattoos and many are offended by them — they basically have a bad image… foreigners don’t have to understand ‘why’ but just accept it (something a lot of foreigners have issues doing).

    In other countries people care less about what others think and often believe they have all this freedom to do as they please — japan is more conservative and considerate of each other and try to please the majority and not offend – yes there are those with tattoos in japan, but tattoos are not as common or popular as in other countries…

    There is so much more to japan than just onsens — plus there are onsens that do accept tattoos — but foreigners have to understand that onsens are not just a tourist attraction… onsens are often a family experience and is deeply rooted in japanese culture – the young and old bath together – onsen owners have to respect their customers and if the majority of them prefer no tattoos then they will have a no tattoo rule — after all, it wont be good for business if they allow tattoos for a small minority of people and lose the majority of their customers.

  • pd1986

    Considering most of the users are japanese, and most of the japanese don’t like tattoos and many are offended by them — they basically have a bad image… foreigners don’t have to understand ‘why’ but just accept it (something a lot of foreigners have issues doing).

    In other countries people care less about what others think and often believe they have all this freedom to do as they please — japan is more conservative and considerate of each other and try to please the majority and not offend – yes there are those with tattoos in japan, but tattoos are not as common or popular as in other countries…

    There is so much more to japan than just onsens — plus there are onsens that do accept tattoos — but foreigners have to understand that onsens are not just a tourist attraction… onsens are often a family experience and is deeply rooted in japanese culture – the young and old bath together – onsen owners have to respect their customers and if the majority of them prefer no tattoos then they will have a no tattoo rule — after all, it wont be good for business if they allow tattoos for a small minority of people and lose the majority of their customers.

  • sparkystiltskin

    Yeah… All those gaijin yakuza.

    Japan and logical thinking are separated by a wide river and there is no ferry service

  • Kijutsu

    Dang, you sure love moving around. It happened to me “twice” actually. Once in Shinjuku when I was trying to get into a titty bar and once(3 times) while searching for a place to rent. Had to ask my boss to come with me cause they would flat our refuse to help me find a place. I’ve heard other stories but those are my experiences so far.

  • Anthony Rickardo Samuels

    I have traveled many times between Japan and South Korea, and it is for this very topic why I head to South Korea all the time for Onsen or “Jimjjillbang” because I never have this problem. I have tattoos and when I go to Seoul; I head to an onsen called “Shi Lo Am” and because I am so frequent there; they know me quite well. I am a man of colour; and that never plays a factor, secondly I have a little bit of ink; and as opposed to being afraid I have had Koreans ask me about my tattoos because it is seemingly a part of fashion for them as well. My wife is Japanese and even she finds her own country to be extremely stringent on tattoos for no reason. When I was living in Japan; I knew and had Yakuza friends and could barely tell them differently from any other Japanese person. They are friendly, well-mannered, and dress to the nines daily. What they do on their own time is none of my business, nor do I ask them, and I can speak Japanese fluently. I was invited to one of their onsens in Shinjuku and I willingly went. I was not afraid; people saw my ink in their onsen and they thought it was cool. They even asked me if I would be interested in getting “Tebori” or “Wabori” which is a traditional form of tattooing that is revered as an art form here in the West.

    I know Japanese people to be very cautious when it comes to certain characters. However, as it stands this country will continue to lose revenue from me, because if I have to make a choice on where I will go to get my Hot Spring Relaxation in, I am headed for Seoul. Seoul is very much like Toronto, and its younger populous is the main reason why this change in culture has arisen. I have went as far as Pusan in South Korea and got the same welcome as I did in Seoul when it comes to going to Hot Springs.

    If Japan wants to increase their tourism dollar, this is a mind change that is most definitely necessary. I want to see what Japan will do fix this issue.

  • Sara H

    The whole “but the yakuza….” Who cares?

    In most countries members of the mob go to the gym, the pool, hot springs, use businesses open to the public, etc. As long as a person isn’t being loud or unruly and disruptive to other customers, nobody cares.

    The only way it would be a problem is if people who are yakuza are actually being disruptive and loud and rude to other customers.

    Lots of people have tattoos in the world. Most of them are not Yakuza.

    Some teenage girl with a butterfly on her ankle is not part of the Japanese mob.

    And who cares even if someone was Yakuza? As long as they’re not being disruptive it shouldn’t matter. Japan needs to stop with the uchi-soto culture and trying to always box everybody into an “us” or “them”. Just start living together in harmony. Bathing together would go a long way.

  • Sara H

    The whole “but the yakuza….” Who cares?

    In most countries members of the mob go to the gym, the pool, hot springs, use businesses open to the public, etc. As long as a person isn’t being loud or unruly and disruptive to other customers, nobody cares.

    The only way it would be a problem is if people who are yakuza are actually being disruptive and loud and rude to other customers.

    Lots of people have tattoos in the world. Most of them are not Yakuza.

    Some teenage girl with a butterfly on her ankle is not part of the Japanese mob.

    And who cares even if someone was Yakuza? As long as they’re not being disruptive it shouldn’t matter. Japan needs to stop with the uchi-soto culture and trying to always box everybody into an “us” or “them”. Just start living together in harmony. Bathing together would go a long way.

  • Bernadette Soubirous

    You Japan bashers need to stop. The Japanese business owners can refuse who they want to. Why don’t you haters try complaining in China or Malaysia and see how far you get. Japan is the greatest Asian country. Try going to an Islamic nation and complain about the rules and see how far you get. An American owned bakery refused to bake a cake for a gay couple. Just don’t support the business.