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The Japan Tourism Agency has asked spa operators to allow tattooed 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 foreign 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 rejected people with tattoos indiscriminately, 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 foreign nationals.

First published in The Japan Times on March 18.

Warm up

One-minute chat about hot springs.


Collect words related to trips, e.g., ticket, guide, souvenir.

New words

1) ban: a rule officially forbidding something; e.g., “There is a ban on smoking in public places.”

2) opt: choose; e.g., “She always opts for the cheaper option.”

3) indiscriminately: not based on careful choice, or random; e.g., “You should not borrow money indiscriminately.”

4) friction: bad will or conflict because of differences of opinion; e.g., “Since the argument, there has been friction between them.”

5) provoke: to stir up an action or feeling; e.g., “Don’t provoke that dog — he might bite you.”

6) controversy: a long discussion of an important question in which opposing opinions clash; e.g., “The controversy about the use of animal testing for cosmetics has been going on for years.”

Guess the headline

Japan T_ _ _ _ _ _ Agency asks spa operators to accept t_ _ _ _ _ _ _ foreign tourists


1) What is the aim of the request from Japan Tourism Agency?

2) Does the request apply to Japanese people?

3) What measures might onsen operators take to allow tattooed tourists to bathe?

Let’s discuss the article

1) What is your image of tattoos?

2) How often do you go to hot springs?

3) What steps do you think are needed to ensure more people enjoy tourism in Japan?



しかし、文化によって風習へのイメージは大きく異なり、日本ではぎょっと されるような大きなタトゥーもファッションとしてごく普通の人々が入れている国は多く存在します。



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