BEPPU, OITA PREF. – Hotels and bathhouses at the famed Beppu Onsen hot-spring resort in Oita Prefecture continue to be divided over whether to accept tattooed visitors.
Tattoos are widely accepted in many countries, but in Japan the practice is often associated with yakuza and other crime group members.
About 400,000 foreign tourists are expected to visit the country during the ongoing 2019 Rugby World Cup, the first time the rugby competition has been hosted by Japan. Oita Prefecture will host five Rugby World Cup matches altogether, including New Zealand’s victory over Canada on Wednesday.
The city of Beppu has nearly 400 hot-spring facilities, including about 300 private facilities such as hotels and ryokan inns. Most of the private facilities do not accept tattooed visitors at their hot springs, excluding special private baths.
“Users tell us they don’t want their children to see tattoos. We don’t want Japanese customers to leave us,” said Seiji Hori, a senior official at the Beppu City Ryokan Hotel Association, calling for understanding.
The Oniishi no Yu day-visit hot spring in Beppu’s Kannawa district banned tattooed users from its large bathing area. An official said, “We believe foreign visitors understand our policy.”
On the other hand, about 100 municipal and private facilities accept tattooed visitors.
“Public baths are for promoting the health of citizens. There are no legal grounds for rejecting tattooed visitors,” said a Beppu government official.
Visiting the city-run Takegawara hot spring, which has a history of over 100 years, 30-year-old Polish tourist Anna Rabiega said it is “very interesting” that the place allows tattooed visitors when Japanese hot springs generally ban them.
After bathing at another municipal facility, a 68-year-old Japanese corporate worker with tattoos all over his body said: “Many foreigners are visiting Japan during the World Cup. Inns and hotels should allow tattooed visitors to take baths.”
The industry group once considered asking its member hotels to accept tattooed people only in October during the World Cup. But the idea was scrapped due to strong opposition from Japanese customers.
The association maintains the policy of recommending tattooed visitors go to municipal baths. Meanwhile, it will continue discussions on whether to change the policy in the run-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.
In March this year, the Oita Prefectural Government opened an English-language website on hot-spring facilities that accept tattooed visitors.
“It is necessary for Japan to understand the quickly expanding multiculturalism. If possible, we would appreciate it if you could watch over the transition,” the website says.
For more information, visit enjoyonsen.city.beppu.oita.jp/100tattoo-friendly_beppuonsen_japan/