National

In tattoo-taboo Japan, new website offers helping hand for those with ink

by Kantaro Komiya

Contributing Writer

In tattoo-taboo Japan, those who are inked-up have received a helping hand — in both English and Japanese — with the launch of a new website that offers information about tattoo-friendly hot springs and other locations nationwide.

Launched last week, the Tattoo Friendly website lists more than 600 hotels, ryokan (inns), onsen (hot springs), sentō (public baths), gyms, pools and beaches across the country, rating them by how open they are to those sporting tattoos.

Users can use a map and filters on the site to view details about each spot, with their tattoo policies ranging from lenient — “unrestricted” and “covered tattoos accepted” — to those that are a little more strict, with only smaller tattoos or tattoos with “special conditions” allowed.

The website also has columns on topics such as bathing manners and the history of tattoos in Japan — which has long shunned them due to their association with yakuza.

Miho Kawasaki, the website’s administrator and a former editor of the now-defunct Japanese magazine Tattoo Burst, said she was motivated to establish a universal platform for tattooed tourists after being contacted by a number of visitors asking about hot springs that accept them.

Because some spots do not clearly indicate their no-tattoo policies online, some visitors told her they were told not to enter the facilities only after checking in.

Prohibitions on tattooed visitors to public bathhouses in the country were originally put in place to deny the entry of yakuza members, many of whom are tattooed.

However, Kawasaki said tattoos, which have gained popularity globally, have increasingly been recognized as legitimate forms of fashion — a shift that is expected to become even more clear with an increase in foreign tourists in the run-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The view of tattoos has also undergone a change in the Japanese travel and leisure industry, Kawasaki said, amid a shift in focus from group tours to more personalized, individual tourism, with each facility vying to attract visitors by offering a variety of special options.

As this trend grows, the rigid, negative reaction to those with tattoos no longer makes sense, Kawasaki suggested.

“Tattoo-friendliness should be one of the various individual preferences for amenities, just like pet-friendliness or wheelchair-accessibility,” she said.