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How to enjoy hot springs in Japan if you have tattoos

13 Comments
By Martha Knauf

A unique and compelling aspect of traveling throughout Japan is sampling the various "onsen" (hot springs) and "sento" (community bathhouses) available. Both terms refer to public baths, the difference being that an onsen is fed by natural geothermal springs while a sento (generally) uses heated tap water. To maintain the distinction, there are legal restrictions on onsen requiring that they contain at least one of 19 specific natural chemical elements, like iron or sulfur.

Another restriction, unofficial yet still regularly enforced, is against customers with tattoos.

A short history of tattoos in Japan

Tattoos — and their attached taboos — have been in Japan for as long as onsen have been popular.

Click here to read more.

© GaijinPot

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.


13 Comments
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I'm not a fan of tattoos myself but unfortunately tattoos have become popular and trendy among the young in society. So at some point Japanese establishments like onsens will have to get with the times.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

So many olympic athletes in 2020 would be barred from the beach and hot springs.

Fine, generally speaking people in Japan oppose tattoos, but don't pretend to welcome people from other countries with open arms whilst slamming the doors in their faces.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Don't ask, don't tell.

Always works for me at hot springs. Not at public baths though.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Ditto as Stranger said. The only time I've been refused is when I took the courtesy of mentioning it in advance.

But the reasons for banning tattoos from baths in Japan has nothing to do with tourists or foreigners. The ban is to keep yakuza away from hotels and resorts. And no foreigner, no matter how long you have lived in Japan, can be a member of the yakuza. And fashion tattoos and western style tattoos are totally different to irezumi gang signs. So stopping any tourist or foreigner because of a tattoo is just racist basically and you don't even see them when someone is in the water.

Go to Onjuku in the summer and the beach is full of young people with tattoos, including gang tattoos. So if they want to ban tourists or foreigners from baths then why not ban Japanese tattoos from the beach.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

@powerb - pretty sure tattoos are not prohibited at the beach. It's a public area and nobody can refuse another entrance.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

pretty sure tattoos are not prohibited at the beach. It's a public area and nobody can refuse another entrance.

They have signs at Shonan beach in kamakura that say no tattoos, but there is no punishment and no way to get you to leave. Occasionally someone will come around and ask you to cover up, but if you don't they don't do anything.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Sorry, my example about tatts at Onjuku was metaphorical. It's an open public space compared to private baths. But my argument is that baths ban tourists with tattoos for visible distress because they are not gangsters. So the same argument could be made at many beaches with young Japanese showing their tattoos.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I'm sorry but if you wish to redesign your skin then be prepared to be shunned. It comes with the territory. It's not like they had no choice, like those born with a handicap or disfigurement. When in Rome......

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

I'm sorry but if you wish to redesign your skin then be prepared to be shunned. It comes with the territory.

Can't say I'm ever shunned because of it. At least not at the hot springs, and I go 3-4 times a year.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Well maybe because whoever runs your local onsen is too afraid to say anything to a gaijin looking like that DeNiro character from Cape Fear. The public baths and hot springs, like Spa World in Osaka, that I frequent clearly have signs stating that those with tats will be escorted from the premises, butt naked if necessary.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Yes, don't ask don't tell typically saves everybody frim having awkward arguments. The one time though That this didn't work was at a private beach in Okinawa. I was pretty pissed and the life guard trying to enforce it clearly didn't want to (some mom nearby complained apparently about possible negative influence to her kids). I'm still hopeful things will eventually change.... still waiting for this and the smoking ban at restaurants.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

(some mom nearby complained apparently about possible negative influence to her kids). I'm still hopeful things will eventually change.... still waiting for this and the smoking ban at restaurants.

We live parrallel lives bak. People will get upset at tattoos on a beach or in baths where everyone bares all, and yet they won't say a peep when someone smokes over their dinner in a restaurant. Welcome to Japan.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Well maybe because whoever runs your local onsen is too afraid to say anything to a gaijin looking like that DeNiro character from Cape Fear.

Could be, but it's not my local onsen (there aren't any around me). I usually go to Izu or to Kusatsu in Gunma.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

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