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Are more doors opening to tattooed visitors?


A willowy 22-year-old model and personality from Okinawa who goes by the name "Prince Ryuchell" recently announced via an SNS that he and his wife, Peko, 23, delighted to have become parents last month, had celebrated by having his wife's and baby son's names tattooed on his shoulders.

The reaction to his announcement was mostly negative, but Ryuchell, who's real name is Ryuji Higa, stood his ground, asking rhetorically, "What kind of biased society is this anyway?"

Nikkan Gendai also quotes him as saying, in way of explanation, "It wasn't my intention to show I was committed to protecting them by inscribing their names on my body, but rather they are inscribed in my heart."

A TV executive, however, told Nikkan Gendai (Aug 25) that "Okinawa-born vocalist Namie Amuro arranged to remove the tattooing she'd originally had done while in her 20s. It's become a common pattern among entertainers to regret what they'd done when they were wild and immature."

One reason Ryuchell is indifferent, he says, is that "I don't expect to go to Japanese hot springs or public pools" -- a majority of which refuse entry to people with visible tattoos. This is mainly due to a commonly held perception that associates tattoos with membership in organized crime syndicates.

This negative image, however, clashes with the growing popularity among foreign tourists to obtain "fashion tattoos" while visiting Japan. 

As of 2016, hot springs offering overnight lodgings, according to the government's Environment Agency, numbered around 13,000 nationwide. In 2015, swimming pools, including both indoor and outdoor varieties, numbered some 30,000, according to a survey of facilities conducted by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.

And how many of these permit entry to bathers or swimmers with tattoos? For this information, Nikkan Gendai went to a site called "Tattoo Spot" (http://tattoo-spot.jp). Unfortunately the data does not appear to have been updated since July 2016, but at that time, there were at least 220 hot springs and 153 pools that either welcome people with tattoos or do so conditionally provided they apply a seal to conceal the offending tattoo.  

Tattoo Spot's listing also includes saunas, public baths, sports gyms, tanning salons, amusement parks, yoga schools and swimming beaches.

According to Tattoo Spot, responses to a survey of 600 facilities around the nation found that 56% prohibited entry to people with tattoos, while 13% said they would accept them on condition the tattoos were concealed by a sticker. Those with no restrictions came to 31%. 

"More places have been admitting people with tattoos in the hopes of boosting inbound business from overseas," says journalist Kenji Nagasaki. "More than tattoos per se however, the problem is that many foreigners don't understand bathing etiquette, and this is driving away the Japanese customers. In addition, the image of people with tattoos as being intimidating still persists to some degree. If rumors start circulating that 'yakuza like to hang out at that ryokan,' it can become a matter of life or death for the operator. So dealing with the situation has become a case of itashi kayushi (a pain or an itch, i.e., a choice between two evils)."

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.............the problem is that many foreigners don't understand bathing etiquette, ..................

Most, usually older, Japanese men don't understand it either, they are the ones who enter the onsen, throw a bowl of water over their bits and then get into the bath without washing first.

11 ( +12 / -1 )

.............the problem is that many foreigners don't understand bathing etiquette, ..................

It has more to do with many Japanese people feeling inadequate when they are around certain foreigners. The foreigners are too big, they are more attractive, or they are cooler. Whether or not that is true is a different story.

More often then not it is the Japanese men who don't like that their masculinity is at threat.

-6 ( +8 / -14 )

Are more doors opening to tattooed visitors?

I hope not. Monkey see monkey do. Same thing with the male earring fad in the mid 80's. Some pop artist, probably Bono, started wearing them then a whole slew of monkeys followed.

"It wasn't my intention to show I was committed to protecting them by inscribing their names on my body, but rather they are inscribed in my heart."

i guess it could be the translation, but this makes no sense. Anyway, if they are inscribed on your heart Mr. Higa, then there's no need to have a sign on your body.

-7 ( +5 / -12 )

Tattoos have been a bit of a PIA for me, due to not being allowed to go to pools, and being limited on the number of gyms that accept me, but overall they haven't been too big a deal here for me.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Understanding a countries culture is important. The differences between cultures make people unique. I will take off my shoes when entering a home in Japan. I will not enter a place with a no tattoo policy. In America I proudly show my tattoos. In Japan I respectfully cover them, even to the extent to inconvenience myself so I don't indirectly inconvenience others. There is a balance between change and acceptance. I'm welcomed in Japan and I'm thankful as well as many foreigners who just visit this wonderful country. I guess for myself, being in Japan has taught me that being mindful of others and my surrounding is just as usual as the seasons. Some changes are well welcomed, others are not as welcomed but we live with them. Getting a tattoo is a choice. Acceptance of tattoos is a choice. Welcome to Japan!

9 ( +12 / -3 )


Well said.

Being Japanese, I also don’t think it’s very marvelous or unique that we tell people with tattoos to leave even though they are obviously tourists, and the average person actually knows so much better.

Being accountable is also a choice, and we often choose to not be accountable in any way.

7 ( +8 / -1 )


Hamilton has a good point and so do you.

The truth is also that we use our culture and language to just wave off anything we don’t like as well. We don’t try to accommodate as it’s not natural, and really, in the end a lot f Japanese are just blindly following protocol and being a bit nasty to foreigners.

It doesn’t have much to do with yakuza or anything like that. If you sit around and actually talk to Japanese people, not onsen owners about it, it’s obvious.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

The truth is also that we use our culture and language to just wave off anything we don’t like as well. We don’t try to accommodate as it’s not natural, and really, in the end a lot f Japanese are just blindly following protocol and being a bit nasty to foreigners.

It doesn’t have much to do with yakuza or anything like that. If you sit around and actually talk to Japanese people, not onsen owners about it, it’s obvious.

I said the exact same thing in a different way!

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Many American military in Japan, men and women, are now heavily tattooed, that they call body art.

As they get older, they will not have to worry about employment. They can easily find a job in a circus . . . as a sideshow freak!

2 ( +10 / -8 )

I have a cousin in NY with a medical service company that employs over 40 people. Her ironclad rule is to reject job candidates with tattoos. She's a tough, successful businesswoman and I suppose civil rights laws do not extend to matters concerning workers with body ink.

On another note, I belive Osaka's former governor went on a rampage against tattooed civil servants a couple of years back. Wonder if that law is still in place.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

A tattoo with your spouse's and partner's name? Many people realize it's not a good idea when they split. You're stuck with a reminder of a failed relationship. Laser time?

I personally won't judge someone with tattoos (an old neighbour back home had one and was the nicest person you could meet). Not all people with tattoos are yakuza scum. However, I personally wouldn't have one. They look disgusting. Don't want anything permanent on my body.

1 ( +6 / -5 )

Two of the most revolting bodies I've seen are of David Beckham and Justin Bieber. It might have helped their tattooed bodies a bit if they had an ounce of muscle between them.

0 ( +6 / -6 )

If the yakuza were a thing of the past then I might not be able to justify the prejudice in Japan against tattoos.

However, they are groups that still take massive amounts of police time for even trivial matters.

I understand what the Japanese feel when they see body ink and it is not a warm fuzzy feeling.

Anyone in Japan not realizing this needs to be educated.....

-3 ( +3 / -6 )


The problem is that you are condoning small mindedness. There is no reason to kick my American wife out of a gym because someone saw her ankle tattoo in the showers.

This is not anything to do with anything criminal and any Japanese is being petty when they try to mark you as a bad person for it when they know well that you aren’t yakuza.

In the modern world we ask others to show tolerance and an open mind...not the opposite

10 ( +10 / -0 )


I’m not condoning anything!

Are you suggesting that your wife should not be a target because she is American and her tattoo is only small?

Oh dear, let’s make an exception for her then and change the perception of tattoos in Japan that have formed over generations.

Good luck with that!

-5 ( +3 / -8 )

I'm well tattooed, successful, and answer only to clients (whom I rarely deal with these days anymore). I like my tattoos, and add to them periodically. No regrets whatsoever.

3 ( +6 / -3 )


I suggested the things I suggested.

Yes I am absolutely saying that NOBODY should be targeted because of a personal preference.

Being a gang member and having gang tattoos is not the same at all.

Yes lets change the perceptions that have formed over generations! I am for personal freedom and I don’t like tattoos very much at this point in my life, but I’m not gunna judge anyone else either.

Can’t say the same about you apparantly.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

I have an opinion about tattoos, and it is not favorable. So what.

One of our adult children had the name of their significant other tattooed on their body, and they broke up, after they found the other person was cheating. Was it a good idea to get the tattoo?

3 ( +4 / -1 )

I personally hate tats, would never get one, I just don’t believe of turning myself into a Google road map, I think natural is always the best, but I do like looking at some of them and some of my relatives are inked. I’m glad though at least people with tats in Japan are not getting as heavily discriminated as before. I see more places as well as people accepting people with tattoos. When I go to the Apple Store there are a few that have very visible tats, something you would have never seen 10 years ago.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

One of our adult children had the name of their significant other tattooed on their body, and they broke up, after they found the other person was cheating. Was it a good idea to get the tattoo?

You'd have to ask them. Tattoos are personal - each person has their own views. I personally wouldn't want to have the name of a former partner tattooed on me, but I know a guy who has it, and I said once that it must suck, and he says it's a memory of a time in his life, both the good and the bad, so he's ok with it.

People forget that tattoos have been part of civilization for thousands of years. Tattoos are more part of humanity than your opinions that they are not.

I have a tattoo I don't like (the second one I got). I don't regret that tattoo, I just use it as a learning lesson to more strongly consider the tattoos I do get.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

I went to an appointment with my doctor, last month, but he was on vacation (he's a 'teaching doctor', by the way). His replacement's arms both had extensive tattoos. Makes me wonder what Japanese patients would think if they experienced the same. I can see them in a cartoonish way running out of the doctor's office screaming in fright. Would make for good anime, no?

5 ( +5 / -0 )

I'm pretty heavily tattooed on my legs with beautiful artwork, and I live in Japan. I've had a mixture of reactions to my art. Mostly it's shock, or disgust from older men. Once an old man even came up to me at the bar, and told me in Japan it's disgusting for a woman to have tattoos, then he attacked my weight (I'm by no means heavy for a foreign woman). They don't know how to react to a woman who has control over their body, because they believe that a woman's body is for them.

I've had times when I was stopped on the street, and an old man pointed to my tattoos and said they were cool.

But the best has been when a young girl, working at a freshness burger, asked me if they were real tattoos, and when I said yes, she responded with amazement and awe.

Not everyone in Japan hates tattoos. Mainly it's the older generation who's afraid of change. The younger generation wants to express themselves, and I feel they should be allowed to, especially in this country where you're forced to conform.

4 ( +7 / -3 )

Most, usually older, Japanese men don't understand it either, they are the ones who enter the onsen, throw a bowl of water over their bits and then get into the bath without washing first.

I've seen worse. One old bloke had his razor in the rotenburo and was shaving and rinsing it in the water. So gross.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I don't like tattoos in general, or any other "body modifications." But Japan's restrictions on tattoos are an embarrassment - one those things that screams Japan is not quite ready to be a global leader, but would rather hang on to its cherished irrational quirks. Are they going to ban the Olympic athletes from using pools?

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Are they going to ban the Olympic athletes from using pools?

Actually they are -- the ones on their own national team anyway. I've never seen a tattooed member of any Japanese Olympic team, although some sports like baseball don't expose much skin.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I do not need tattoos on my body hoping for attraction, I have scars on my right arm that does that. 511th, P.I.R., 11th A/B. Div.

-2 ( +4 / -6 )

Tatts are big fashion in USA now. Some are works of art and some mark a very important time or accomplishment in life. Its interesting to go to a water park in USA and see the changes in fashionable tattoos.

We are American and proud to be indiviual and thats quite differnt than Japan to be part of the fold.

Personally I don't have one or would have one but I support your right to wear one. MAGA

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

Ah summer in Kyoto: crowds of foreigners showing off tatted-up arms and legs. I think most Japanese know, even if they'd never want to get one themselves, that tattoos on foreigners are nothing to worry about. They know the thinking about tattoos is different and that it's normal and mainstream to get tattoos in many countries. But it is true culture in Japan is still more conservative, and in the past tattoos were not for self-expression but for initiation into the crime syndicate, so in Japan getting a tattoo as a Japanese person begs the fearful question "what other laws and social norms are you going to throw out the window?"

The only thing that bugs me about banning tattoos in pools and onsen is the failure to mention piercings. At a super sento in Osaka I once saw a punky oniisan with both ears and lips covered in spikey piercings. I just shuddered to imagine one of them falling out on the pool bottom and someone stepping on it with their bare feet! I would never go in with earrings in for that reason so I've always wondered why piercings aren't banned even though they are definitely a physical safety risk.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )


It was a very thoughtful and considered comment. And I surely do agree with your second sentence. But I wonder what inconvenience seeing ink on someone’s skin causes them? It's nice that you cover your own tattoos but what about people who cannot cover their tattoos without something akin to a burka? I realize that is an extreme case but they do exist.

Japan also taught me a great deal about being mindful of others as I come from a more individual-centered culture. That has been a great lesson and one I try to keep with me at all times. Even when I am not in Japan.

We know why such tattoo policies were created and we can all (I think!) probably agree that it is a false pretense that all people with tattoos are criminals. So by following these rules/policies we are, in my opinion, tacitly agreeing with them and allowing the ignorant minority to rule. If this includes paying to visit places that enforce such policies then we are even more convincingly tacitly agreeing with and even supporting such small mindedness.

Overall what bothers me is not just about tattoos. It is that people can be allowed to discriminate based on what someone looks like and create policy that enforces this. If we tacitly agree to this then why not allow them to discriminate on other cosmetic choices like hair color, dental work, hair style? Where would that end?

In fact many schools in Japan have already been called out for forcing students with natural hair color that is not black to dye it black. This isn't even a cosmetic choice for that person. Should we also allow schools to force our children to dye their hair, implant some subconscious self-loathing or otherness just to appease the minority of ignorant people who use culture as an excuse to discriminate and make everyone the same?

I struggle with walking this line myself and I certainly do not have all the answers. Sometimes I wonder what constitutes “culture” and whether the heavy-handed enforcement of old rules by a minority that still actually holds to it can qualify for that term.

I personally will not cover mine if I do not feel like covering them any more than I would ask a friend to suck his gut in because other people might not like to see it and will not patronize any business that discriminates based on appearance. I guess there are many choices.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

"I'm pretty heavily tattooed on my legs with beautiful artwork."


-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Hamilton: well said.

Harry-Gatto: indeed! The bathing etiquette of elderly men often fails to live up to the standards of what is asked of foreign tourists.

My legs are covered in tattoos. It gives me great pleasure to look at works of art on my body. They are beautiful, to me. Out of respect to my home in Japan of several decades, I don't wear shorts, I wear sweatpants at the gym, I go to a few hot springs in ski areas that don't object to people wearing tattoos. I don't complain about it. So be it. I only ask in return to not be so gleefully judged.

I once saw a sign that said, paraphrasing, "The only difference between people with tattoos and those without is tattooed people don't care if you are not tattooed." Sums it up for me.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

getting a tatoo with your mother's name or your son's name or something like that...probably not such a bad idea but getting your girlfriend's/boyfriend's name or even your wife's/husband's name tatooed on...that's definitely not such a smart move lol

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Narrowmindedness and xenophobia exists in Japan because theirs no diversity. 98.5 percent Japanese. People generally don’t know how to act to Gajins because they don’t see them. Been living here a year, overall most people are very kind. Definitely get stared at constantly. I have two full tattoo sleeves and on one occasion an 70 year old woman said to me “you have beautiful tattoo work.” Media makes society brainwashed on a number of different aspects. People here can be a lot more robotical compared to Americans. I believe with the population decline and lowest birth rate on the planet, Japan has more things to worry about. A member of the mafia will not attack someone at a public place. It’s simply being offended by something minor and ignorant about.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Tattoos are becoming increasingly popular across the world, however, this may not be the case in Japan. Aside from normal Japanese politeness, tourists with tattoos should be cautious of potential conflicts of interest. My friend visited this nation, and luckily for him, he is just wearing temporary tattoos. Tattoos are considered an art form by some, but not by the Japanese government. Tattoos are typically linked with the Yakuza, a Japanese group that covers their entire body with tattoos, despite the fact that they are not prohibited.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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