More than 50% of Japanese hotels and ryokans nationwide bar entry to their bathing facilities by guests with tattoos, according to a survey by the Japan Tourism Agency (JTA).
The JTS published the results of the survey on its website on Wednesday.
The survey, conducted in June, asked 3,768 hotels and ryokans in Japan: “Do you refuse admittance to people with tattoos?” and "Would you accept someone with tattoos if they cover them with stickers?" and "Do you know the reason for the custom of barring people with tattoos?"
Of the 581 that replied, 56% said they do bar guests with tattoos, while 31% said they do not and 13% said they allow guests with tattoos into onsens if their tattoos are covered up.
Recently, the number of foreign visitors to Japan has soared; so far this year, more than 15 million tourists have visited Japan -- an all-time high. Japan is aiming to have 20 million tourists visit annually by 2020. Tourism officials say how businesses accept other cultures is crucial for the industry.
According to the agency, in 2014, one-third of foreign tourists indicated onsens as one of their main reasons for visiting Japan, behind Japanese food and shopping. However, the agency said tour operators had received feedback from visitors expressing their disappointment and bewilderment at being turned away from onsens due to their tattoos.
In Japan, tattoos are associated with yakuza organized crime syndicates, and many public institutions bar people who have them as a way to keep gangsters out. Many Japanese onsen operators are apparently unaware of the role of tattoos in some cultures.
The survey also revealed that 47% of the respondents said some guests complained about the use of the bathing facilities by other guests with tattoos.
In 2013, the issue gained a lot of media attention after a Maori woman was barred from a public bath in Hokkaido because of her traditional face tattoos. The spa has a ban on people with body art.
After that incident, an official from the public bath said the decision had been made to avoid making other guests uncomfortable. "Even if it is traditional culture, it is difficult to expect other patrons to understand the difference between one tattoo and another. A typical person cannot judge the context behind the tattoos," the official said.© Japan Today