Tourism body to poll spas on no-tattoo policy amid influx of foreign visitors with body art


Staff Writer

The Japan Tourism Agency said Thursday it has begun surveying onsen hot springs nationwide on their no-tattoo policy because many foreign visitors sporting body art have been perplexed by such restrictions.

Many public bathhouses have long denied entry to people with tattoos due to their traditional association with yakuza. However, the policy has baffled many non-Japanese, including people whose tattoos are rooted in their ethnicity.

Earlier this month, the agency started distributing a questionnaire to 3,700 inns and hotels with public baths, asking them why and how they turn away tattoo-bearers and whether they have run into trouble with guests over the policy, an official in its regional development department said.

The survey will try to find out how the practice was started in the first place, by asking each inn whether it was triggered through requests from police or a local industry group, he said.

“Many of the foreign tourists have tattoos for fashion and ethnic reasons. Onsen is an important resource for tourists to learn the Japanese way of living and culture. We would like to get a better grasp of the situation and deal with it,” Japan Tourism Agency Commissioner Shigeto Kubo was reported as saying Wednesday.

The agency’s move follows an April announcement by major hotel operator Hoshino Resort Co. that it will start distributing 8 cm x 10 cm stickers starting Oct. 1 for guests with body ink. Guests at the group’s 13 Kai high-end inns will be allowed to use the public baths if the guests use the stickers to cover their tattoos.

The major hotel group said it decided to introduce the system after the firm’s president, Yoshiharu Hoshino, heard a Maori visitor recount the experience of being rejected entry to a bath in Japan.

  • Ahojanen

    It is obsolete to prohibit people from entering onsen and public baths on the ground of tattoos. Fashion tatoos are popular especially among foreingers while present-day “yakuza” guys are not necessarily tatooed (it is not at all compulsory for yakuza membership)

  • Jamie Bakeridge

    At no point in this article is the issue of Japanese with fashion or religious body art addressed. Why not? Why only foreigners? The unwillingness to question blatant discrimination for baseless reasons is a real weakness of Japanese society and media. This is not just limited to onsen – even the most foreigner friendly municipality in Japan, Minato-ku in Tokyo has a blanket ban on all tattoos in its public swimming baths.

    • Avery

      “Why only foreigners?” What are you talking about?

    • isitimetogohomeyet

      Traditionally, tattoos in Japan have been associated with the criminal element. Therefore it is reasonable to assume that proprietors of onsen would ban tattoos due to that association. However, more recently especially in the younger generation, tattoos, body piercing, and other forms of “body art” have gained wider popularity and acceptance. In urban and much more cosmopolitan areas, such body modification is probably becoming more and more acceptable and the association w/ the criminal element has decreased. However, in more rural and resort areas where many of these onsen are located, it is likely much less acceptable.

    • J Steel

      “Why only foreigners?” I’m confused by your statement, did you read
      the article? Tattoos in Japanese culture and society are traditionally
      associated with yakuzas, it is their “mark.”

      You don’t hear much
      about it from Japanese with tattoos for fashion purposes because they
      do so knowing that this would be part of the consequence, thus they
      aren’t exactly trying to access onsens and going through an explanation
      with management on how they are not yakuza and the tattoos are just
      fashion art etc. If is simply the Japanese cultural way of doing things,
      and the important aspect is that the locals respect and uphold that
      (there are articles with stats showing support from locals for this
      rule). It would actually be racist if you think about it for Japanese
      with tattoos to be denied entry while foreigners with tattoos get a pass
      on this rule.

      We from the West would probably prefer a rule like “Yakuzas not allowed.” But this is not the rule because it opens up a lot of potential loopholes for Yakuzas to get in (how do you define who is a Yakuza member then?) and will create a myriad of legal challenges and headaches for the officials. At the end of the day, if you are a yakuza member, you will have tattoos because it is required, and so the bulletproof method of keeping them out is denying entry to people with tattoos.

  • WalterFeldman

    Surely the hotel president could come up with a better solution than stickers, such as tolerance.

  • Brenda Huff

    It’s not just at baths, onsen, swimming pools that this happens. I have a japanese friend who got so frustrated going to the gym because they told him he would have to cover up or leave. He started his own gym that doesn’t discriminate against those with tattoos. I would love to visit Japan and even move there, but trying to find places where my husband and I can go (since we both have tattoos) ahead of time is hard work. Even harder when they don’t say anything about “no tattoos” on their websites. It would be nice to see if everyone (no matter what race) could go anywhere (like here in the US) and not get kicked out of places.

  • Cippiri Merlo

    For the LAST TIME:
    Tatoos in Japan are traditionally related with Yakuza, so facilities where your body gets exposed (like onsen or gym) are usually off-limits for people sporting tatoos, siply because they don’t want to have Yakuza-related problems.
    The idea that foreigners should make an exception just for the sake of being foreigners is quite racist and would create a double standard.

    • mschauer

      Actually, tattoos ARE a tradition of Japan, with Samurais having had tattoos until AMERICA arrived after the war and forbid tattoos. At that time, only Mafia were doing tattoos as a sign of their disrespect. And while America got rid of its no-tattoo policy in the states, it stuck here in Japan.

      • Cippiri Merlo

        You are partially right by saying that tatoos have a several centuries long tradition in Japan, during Edo period it was a fine art and tattooed people weren’t considered “bad”. Yet the shift to the current anti-tatoo “policy ” occurred much before American invasion. During the war, for example, tattooed people couldn’t get in the army, and I know of cases of people who got tatoo just to avoid being drafted.

  • Travis Sullivan

    If they don’t know the reason, they didn’t do any research about Japan at all. Classically, tattoos are a sign of the yakuza. But Japan is a one-size-fits-all kind of country. They don’t want to say, ‘no yakuza,’ rather they say, ‘no tattoos,’ in order to prevent any slander law suits for turning away specific styles of tattoos (aka full body tattoos). If your tattoos is small enough, wear a sticker or bandage over it, and you’re fine. If it’s a large tattoo, well you’re kind of SOL. You can gauze wrap your tattoos. But they won’t change that policy. And it’s clear why they don’t. (Besides being naturally isolationist and a robot-cog society of ‘conform to our style or stay out’)

  • Chandrakant Kulkarni

    It’s always advisable to wear ‘temporary’ tattoos (=that can be erased easily) instead of permanent tattoos, so that one can erase them as & when required. Moreover, you get a choice of wearing a new tattoo every time!

  • Esv80

    People just don’t understand. If you go to a foreign country, in this case, Japan. You can’t possibly expect to be treated and do things like you normally would in your own country.

    Japanese, for a long time now, have seen, probably will continue, to see tattoos as related to criminal organizations or just crime in general.

    Even if your tattoos are purely for expressing art, who you are etc. The fact of the matter is, they don’t care. They see tattoos, you’re out. That simple.

    So unless you were actually born, raised, and educated in Japan and its norms, or at least, living in Japan for quite a while, then really, you have no right to complain about rules that you don’t like and then throw a fit.

    That’s how perceive it.

    • Gerardo Gallo

      a very very beautiful comment. Each people its culture

  • Gerardo Gallo

    i like Japan because tattos are not allowed in the onsen or Others facility. In europe ( expecially in my country Italy ) most of the people with tattos are the most stupid and aggressive people. Most of the soccer player are with tattos, but no Marathon or tennis or golf Champions are with tattos. Only disperate people ( and exibitionist people ) are use to have tattos. PLEASE NO TATTOS IN JAPAN, PLEASE NO TATTOS INSIDE THE ONSEN. PLEASE RESPECT THE CULTURE. The Japanse culture is the true value of Japan. Please , preserve Japanese culture

  • my local sento is full of old Japanese guys with full body tatttoos. Indeed, I think the only people that still use my local sento _are_ the ykza.