BEPPU, OITA PREF. - Hotels in the famed hot spring resort of Beppu, Oita Prefecture, are considering accepting tattooed visitors in October during the 2019 Rugby World Cup and possibly afterward, according to local industry sources.
Beppu onsen hotels have been generally reluctant to accept tattooed visitors, with some of them restricting those visitors from using spa facilities, as many people in Japan still associate tattoos with those perceived negatively such as yakuza.
Overseas, tattoos are more widely accepted as forms of culture, tradition and fashion, and many foreign athletes have tattoos.
After Japan was selected in July 2009 to host the 2019 Rugby World Cup, the Beppu hot spring industry saw a rise in the number of inquiries and bookings made from France, Australia, Britain and other countries.
Five matches are scheduled to take place in Oita, including a first-round match between Canada and defending champion New Zealand.
An association of ryokan inns and hotels in the city of Beppu, including the hot spring district, plans to draw up guidelines for accepting tattooed visitors as early as this month, following a recent survey of its more than 100 members.
“The association will set only a framework and each hotel should voluntarily decide (whether to accept tattooed visitors),” said Seiji Hori, a senior official of the local association. “But we hope to allow as many foreign visitors as possible to be accepted.”
In 2018, the Beppu resort was visited by about 590,000 people from abroad, mainly those from other parts of Asia.
The local industry regards the forthcoming Rugby World Cup as a great opportunity to appeal to foreign tourists. It might continue to accept tattooed visitors after the event, local sources said.
“We hope to inform (foreign tourists) more about the benefits of hot springs in Japan,” Hori said. “They’re not just large bath tubs. They have many positive health effects.”