Japan Today

Gov't encouraging hot springs to ease tattoo restrictions

By Casey Baseel, RocketNews24

Over time, international travelers’ willingness to experience certain parts of local culture can change remarkably. Not so long ago, it wasn’t unusual for visitors to Japan to feel squeamish about eating raw fish or baffled at the idea of waiting in line for a lowly bowl of noodles, but now most would argue that your Japan experience isn’t complete without sampling the country’s amazing sushi and ramen.

Likewise, more and more foreign travelers are showing an interest in dipping a toe in Japan’s hot spring, or onsen, traditions, even if communal bathing isn’t something that’s done in their own countries. This presents a bit of a problem, though when the West’s growing acceptance with body art bumps up against Japan’s preexisting images about tattoos.

For generations in Japan, it was almost exclusively yakuza who had tattoos. Recently, more young Japanese people than in the past have been showing an interest in tattoos from a fashion and personal style standpoint, but inked flesh is still far more common in Japan’s criminal underworld than the law-abiding sectors of its society. Because of this, hot springs in Japan commonly bar individuals with tattoos from entering their baths, since the relaxing atmosphere that draws onsen fans tends to be somewhat disrupted when sharing the tub with a mobster.

However, these restrictions also can also cut off visiting tourists’ access to hot springs. Since the Japan Tourism Agency, part of the government’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism, is all about making it easier for people from abroad to travel to and in Japan, the organization recently released a statement encouraging hot spring operators to relax their no-tattoo policies. Such a move would not only expand their potential customer base, but would also make Japan as a whole a more attractive travel destination for tattooed tourists. If hot spring operators are reluctant to allow the open display of tattoos, the agency suggests giving bathers the choice of placing adhesive covers over their ink, or at least allowing them to use private bathing facilities.

The economic fortunes of an onsen are heavily dependent on the purity of its water, but the Japan Tourism Agency asserts that the ink from a tattoo poses no contamination threat. As for the mental images of yakuza that tattoos can conjure up, membership in Japan’s organized crime syndicates is predominantly Japanese and virtually entirely Asian, so an obvious foreign national with “Go Lakers!” tattooed across his bicep or a butterfly on her calf is unlikely to produce extreme uneasiness among the other bathers.

However, hot spring operators are understandably averse to the idea of putting up notices stating “Tattoos are OK…but only if you’re a foreigner!” Still, proponents of relaxing restrictions feel that even if tattooed people of any nationality are allowed to use the onsen, inked Japanese will refrain from doing so, out of consideration to existing cultural attitudes, and thus a change in policy will not result in an increased yakuza presence in the baths.

Source: CNN Japan via Zaeega

Read more stories from RocketNews24. -- Onsen in Nagano will now welcome foreigners with tattoos, as long as they patch ’em up -- Government begins study into tattoo bans in public baths -- New onsen facility in the heart of Tokyo’s business district to be ready for Olympics

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I don't see that as being a loss. If someone really had that much of an issues with my tattoos that they didn't want to talk do me because of them, they aren't the type of person I would want to talk to. The thing is, you cannot always see my tattoos, so it kind of bothers me that I may talk to a person like that without realizing that they were that type of person. All the reason to make sure that they are visible as often as possible.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

@anonymous jones. First of all I have used hawkeye as an online moniker since I was a kid using cb radios in the 70's and have been also on line the internet since around 1990 so grow up. Anyway for example if you were on the beach in Japan and were at the beach with your jwife and kids for the day then some Japanese or foreigner with tats and body piercings plunked themself next to you and tried to strike up a conversation, I would pick up my family and move because I dont want to be identified with them. Maybe that is prejudice but I have a life and career to support my family and don't give a damn about tat life.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

If it's not hurting anyone Hawkeye (who name's themselves after one of the worst superheros ever anyway), then it shouldn't be a problem. I don't like bad dye jobs, but does that mean it would be okay for them to be ostracized because of it.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I think tattoo's are low class and body piercings too. Personally I dont want to bathe or soak with people with them so it's fine if some onsens allow them and some say no but make separate areas for tat and non tat people. The next challenge to onsens is going to be the transgender issue.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

Respect and Observe the local laws and customs of the places you go to.

Yes, and no. Several of my college-aged Japanese students have permanent tattoos, some of them in really conspicuous places like their hands or neck. I don't approve of tattoos in general, but I also don't approve of the idea of ostracising people who have them from social places, such as communal baths. Japan will really have to change with the times, not only to encourage foreign tourism but to be more accepting of its own populace.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

I'm hard pressed to remember seeing any articles about a somewhat related issue, that being body piercings.

Am curious as to what, if any, policies are held by hot springs etc

There aren't any that I've ever seen. Piercings don't have the same association with the yakuza that tattoos do, so there isn't really a reason to have a policy on them.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Such a silly cultural thing. If someone came into an onsen with a big bandage over his back or wherever, then you instantly know that he's covering a tat, so how does that make any difference in the end seeing as the guy with the tat is still there and you know he has a tat?

To me this just seems like nasty and infantile discrimination

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

I personally wouldn't have any issue sharing an onsen with tattooed Yakuza... the ones I've met never had any issues and were pleasant and even friendly to me.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

And how does a government "encourage" non ignorance exactly?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Maybe they could pass out "adhesive covers" to members of organized crime, too. Of course, they'd have to be full-body covers...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I think tattooed foreigners should be prepared to cover their tats

That's not really possible for some of us.

Anyways, it's mostly a non-issue. I've been to dozens of onsen (hot springs), never had a problem at any of them. I go 2-3 times a year with the family.

Sento (public baths) on the other hand are a no-go.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I personally don't like this and it's something I don't want Japan to cave into foreign pressure on. The reason is because the old rule of thumb of travel applies: Respect and Observe the local laws and customs of the places you go to. Sure, when we travel you come across customs you may not like or agree with, but because it's the way things are done and a common sentiment in the host country, you observe them regardless. I think tattooed foreigners should be prepared to cover their tats, or perhaps there might be specific Onsens designated for their use (or even sections of an onsen), but other than that, things should remain the way they are.

1 ( +6 / -5 )

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