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Many spa operators in Japan still refuse to let foreigners with tattoos use their facilities. Observers say this reflects a limited understanding in Japan about acquiring tattoos for fashion, religiou


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When did this policy start? When I was a kid in the 80s I went to the sento, and people had all kinds of tattoos. Most of them were yakuza, but I didn't really understand what that was. I'd be sitting next to a guy with a full body tattoo and think nothing of it. There was never any trouble.

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I think the sento operates differently from resort spas. However, when they say "many spa operators", I'd be interested to know how many. Is it more than half?

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They are private companies and can push any policy they want. As a consumer you can choose to spend your money elsewhere if you do not agree with their policies. Could choose to have a tattoo day also -may be very popular.

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As with anything your actions have a re-action. You can have any policy you want, but you should be ready to deal with the aftermath and at least be aware and knowledgeable of how you may be perceived afterwards.

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I've noticed that ordinary Japanese get pretty spooked whenever they're in an environment where the Yakuza are present. I remember one time going to a small bar (everybody was having a good time) and this one guy came in by himself and sat at the end of the bar. He had a long, nasty looking scar running up and down the side of his face which to Japanese means gangster. The place got really quiet and cleared out within a short time (including our small group).

I suppose the same feeling prevails amongst Japanese when they're in a spa. I don't think the Japanese regard foreigners with tatoos as gangsters per se, but to be fair the spa owners have to apply the rule equally to everybody regardless of race & nationality in order to keep the wrong elements away.

Is it fair? No, but from a business standpoint it probably does with the spa owners.

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Who cares about Spa Operators and how they think? That whole onsen thing appeals to Japanese mostly. And Japanese have always been prejudiced towards Tattoo'd people anyways, foreign or Japanese.

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thepersoniamnowMAR. 20, 2016 - 10:24AM JST As with anything your actions have a re-action. You can have any policy you want, but you should be ready to deal with the aftermath and at least be aware and knowledgeable of how you may be perceived afterwards.

Couldn't what you wrote be just as valid if re-written as: You can do anything you want to your body, but you should be ready to deal with the aftermath and at least be aware and knowledgeable of how you may be perceived afterwards?

I know some people are concerned about baths with tattoo bans making Japan look bad in the run up to the Olympics, but personally I'd be more concerned about the myriad forms of real discrimination that take place here every day. It's hard for me to get worked up about unfair tattoo discrimination in a luxury bath when essentials like housing, work, and education have serious racial, gender, and sexual orientation discrimination issues.

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This is what's going to happen. There won't be any policy change among operators, nor 'encouragement' from government. Japan thrives in a forcefield against gaiatsu, after all. This will lead to popular travel services abroad like Expedia & Ago building databases of onsens that do allow people with tattoos. Cashed-up international tourists (not sure the inaka realise just how many of them there are) will choose where to spend their money.

I'm not necessarily criticising the way Japan does things, but this is just how things are here. I've lived in the countryside, I've lived in the city. The inaka just will not survive if they maintain their uber-conservative (and very out-of-touch) ways. You want to the tourism yen, you have to adapt. This rings true for any local economy. Tattoos or not, there are Yaks everywhere in Japan. In every borough, in every town. They run this country! Just a fact of life here.

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Yakuza guys and Gals melt when they see my legs.

I have no issues with tattoos. There are some very lovely designs out there.

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I have been to many spas throughout Japan ... and sometimes comment on their "no tattoo" signs if they have any. The explanation usually is, "We don't want the bad people (yakuza) bathing here. They upset other guests." And in order for them to carry out this policy, they say they have to ban everyone with tattoos no matter where they are from, etc.

As for public bathhouses (sento), I have seen people with tattoos in many of the establishments I have bathed in throughout Japan. As far as I know, the sento have no set policy against those with tattoos.

The most tattooed guys I have seen at one time was at a place here in Tokyo. I guess there must have been at least a dozen fully tattooed men in that bathhouse (which closed down many years ago). Probably was a yakuza convention nearby ... or something like that. They seemed quite friendly and didn't bother me.

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Who cares about Spa Operators and how they think? That whole onsen thing appeals to Japanese mostly. And Japanese have always been prejudiced towards Tattoo'd people anyways, foreign or Japanese.

Lots of foreigners love onsens, but most come from countries without hot springs and take the opportunity while here to indulge.

In my experience, onsens are split on the matter of tattoos - some have the sign up and some don't. If you have a small design, you can always cover up or just hope that it is ignored. If you have huge tattoos covering your body, stay away.

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When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Personally, I find tattoos nauseating.

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Of course what I wrote could be rewritten and still make sense. I was talking about a onsen and how they wanted to be perceived to tourists. However I agree that the onsen world isn't important when it comes to education, housing, etc like you mentioned, but this still is a discussion about tattoos and not other forms of discrimination.

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thepersoniamnowMAR. 21, 2016 - 08:42AM JST Of course what I wrote could be rewritten and still make sense. I was talking about a onsen and how they wanted to be perceived to tourists.

Right, I understand that. What I'm asking is why is your analysis only going one way? Why are we not also looking at tourists and asking how they want to be perceived by their hosts?

I see it like those exclusive nightclubs that don't let you in unless you're dressed a certain way. Personally, I've got some bleepable things to say about anyone who doesn't think the way I dress normally is good enough for a night on the town, but the fact that these clubs persist shows that no one gives a damn what I think on this subject. Why should they? I don't have a human right to boogie down in a room packed with pretty people. My style of dress does not make me a class of person. It is my choice to dress how I do.

Tattooed people, outside of a few ethnic groups (who I think should get a free pass around the no tattoos rule, but let's face it, aside from the Ainu it's unlikely that most people from a culture that mandates tattooing are ever going to be in a Japanese public bath), are not a class of people. It was their choice to get tattooed. So at least so long as we're talking about a small number of luxury services, denying them business is not really discrimination any more than the bouncer keeping me out of the club is discrimination against the shabbily-dressed. It's not discrimination, it's just business, and the customers have chosen to present themselves in a way that they are excluded from the business.

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For me, it's mostly a non-issue. When I stay at an overnight onsen, they never say anything about my tattoos (I've never once had anyone say anything, and I go to onsen 2-3 times a year). Sento on the other hand will ask people to leave, and usually have a sign at the door saying no tattoos, though it's often in Japanese. I almost never go to sento as a result. I have been though, and ignored the sign, and no one has said anything. But my friend who is of Japanese decent was asked to leave a sento because of his tattoo.

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Since there are 2 sides to every issue I guess we both have valid points. Facilities can set their own standards and people can have opinions about them. In Japan the social stigmatization of people who don't fit in perfectly is still quite strongly enforced by society and authorities (I am Japanese btw). For me it's not so much an onsen that's an issue but the forbidding of tattooed people to public spaces like gyms, baths, beaches, etc. My personal opinion is that people should be accepted as they come and have the freedom to express yourself with whatever ink, clothes, and hairstyles they please. Don't get me wrong I'm all for being appropriate and carrying oneself respectfully in public and when using public facilities. But in Japan anyone with a tattoo is kind of a bad person. You and I both know that not all people with tattoos (such as my American wife) are bad. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I feel Japan needs more open dialogue in this matter to have a better rounded opinion. More and more Japanese kidz are getting inked and I think it would be better for them to be accepted and normalized rather than denied access and marginalized as a part of society that probably 99% have nothing to do with.

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The foreign features more than the tattoos I might believe.

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People have no idea about the feeling in Japan.Gangs are a real problem here,cops have to watch them 24/7 (literally) to prevent violence. Tattoos just have such a derogatory image due to the fact that the people with them (yakuza) kill others.....it's a cultural thing!

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The no tattoo rule was created to keep out the yakuza, so I don't understand why there aren't special rules for foreigners with tattoos. Unless they don't want to deal with foreigners who may or may not understand onsen rules and customs. But if onsen owners are fine with losing out on the money that allowing tattooed foreigners in would bring, then that's their business. Other, more welcoming onsen, will reap the benefits of letting everyone in.

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When in Rome....

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I think if Japan wants foreign tourist and Olympic trade, they need to join the rest of the planet in being more open about a lot of things.

Japanese have tattoos for fashion too. It is 2016 and you have to be pretty sheltered to think that Yaks are the only Japanese with tattoos or that only criminals have them.

Time to stop this nonsense or choose not to make money from visitors.

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Not a fan of tattoos. I find it disappointing when people feel they need to mark themselves up in an attempt to somehow improve their appearance. That said, I don't have any issue with a tattooed individual using the baths unless they just got a tattoo and it hasn't healed yet. If the ban is as widespread as this question makes it seem, then maybe the Yaks should open some tattoo-only spas to cater to the ones left out.

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Personally, I think its very stupid and outdated. In the past 10-15 years, MANY Japanese people have been getting tattoos and the vast majority of them are just ordinary people. The stigma around it has faded, the times have changed, and the sento owners need to understand this. Also, they know that a foreigner with a tattoo is not a indication that they are a member of organized crime. That's purely a Japanese thing, and even THAT is changing. I've heard that there are some Yak factions that don't do tattoos anymore to be able to mix with the general population better. In addition to that, what do you do if a young group of bozos (bosozoku) or chimps (chimpira) swagger into the sento and act like hooligans even if they don't have tattoos?

There is no reason to refuse anyone based on their race, religion, or whether or not they have tattoos. Bigotry like that doesn't belong in a country porporting to be a human rights observer, nor in a country wanting to host the Olympics and other international events.

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I never had any problem with my tattoo at any onsen. Before going to the bath I always tell the staff that i have a tattoo in my shoulder and they only ask me to cover it with a towel. It's very important to ask before doing anything, don't forget that most Japaneses dislike people who choose by themself what is ok or not.

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I have been to places that will let you cover a small tattoo. Cool. That said it is still someone else's culture. It will take a little more time, but many of the older Japanese have their set of customs that will take a little more time to fade away. It is not our job to push them. Let Japanese society handle that. Still if a place does have rules for them it is what it is. If you decided to get full body ink, then that is on you. Not everyone has or will be fully accepting of it.

In the states still many people are judgemental of those with full sleeves and body work. A tattoo under your clothes is one thing but you don't see many corporate types with ink on their neck or in places that are frowned upon. We all have our preferences and I myself don't really care, but that said I am not attracted to too many females with full body art. They probably don't care what I think either as I am not in their "tribe".

Again many of us feel that Japan needs to change things in order to fit in with international society etc. We have these discussions all the time. But we cannot expect the world to adapt to us. Some places will never be like home.

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Thankfully I don't drink, so I don't have a tattoo.

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