62

A friend of mine is currently traveling in Japan. She has a small tattoo on her neck. Now she wanted to visit a public swimming pool but was denied entry.

It was difficult to understand the reason but it seems that tattoos "look too dangerous".

Can someone explain to me if it is true that you can't visit a public swimming pool in Japan if you have a tattoo? And if so, what's the real reason for it?

  • 8
    I just wanted to say that while the current three answers are right about tattoos being considered Yakuza in some places in Japan including swimming pools, I have to point out that the current trend for more and more young people to have plenty of tattoos also exists in Japan. At least in the big cities like Tokyo. Not as popular as in the west but not as verboten as reading these answers makes it seem either. – hippietrail Nov 28 '11 at 22:00
  • 1
  • You need to go to a Yakuza bath. – Lemuel Gulliver Mar 22 '15 at 22:01
46

Tattoos or Irezumi as they are called in Japanese were criminalized in the beginning of the Meiji period (some time after 1868) as a way to make a good impression on the west. (A bit ironic in this case...) It was legalized again after the war in 1948 but still retains its image of criminality.

For many years, traditional Japanese tattoos were associated with the yakuza, Japan's notorious mafia, and many businesses in Japan (such as public baths, fitness centers and hot springs) still ban customers with tattoos.

(from wikipedias Irezumi article)

54
+50

Yes, TRUE. A good Canadian friend of mine had a Chicago cubs (u.s. baseball team) tattoo on his right arm. Kind of silly, but apparently any tattoo has yakuza (Japanese mafia) undertones, which makes many Japanese, especially older people, uncomfortable. Attitudes seem to be changing and I even knew a few younger Japanese with tattoos, but the perception remains in the mainstream of society.

There is a simple solution, however -- my friend just covered his tattoo with a large band-aid when going to the gym or public baths. Problem solved.

  • 5
    You can also buy stretchy sleeves (eg Ink Armor) you can wear over your arm or leg to cover a tattoo, though that won't help if you have a maple leaf over your heart – Kate Gregory Sep 20 '12 at 19:45
  • 23
    It's possible they rejected him because he was willing to get a Cubs tattoo. – corsiKa Oct 1 '14 at 4:00
  • @KateGregory Maple Leaf tattoo- great idea. Maple Leafs tattoo- not so great. – Spehro Pefhany Dec 17 '14 at 15:57
  • 2
    @corsiKa And his tattoo was finally vindicated! – Peter M Nov 12 '16 at 12:27
23

In Japan, tattoos are not a fashion statement, they are a visual mark of being a member of the yakuza and thus a social outcast.

So "No tattooed people allowed" really means "we don't want the mafia on our premises". Most Japanese are probably aware that tattoos nowadays have rather different connotations in western countries, but they're not going to make exceptions to a straightforward rule and risk being accused of racism or double standards.

20

At least one onsen has recently (September 2013) refused a Maori woman with a traditional tattoo. From Tattoo ban at bathhouses raises concern in Japan:

TOKYO: With the Olympics headed to Tokyo, Japanese government officials are raising concern after a New Zealand woman with a traditional Maori tattoo was recently denied entry to a bathhouse.

Tattooed Maori woman barred by Japan public bath indicates that the woman was 60 years old.

So being old, female, and having a traditional tattoo doesn't help in some circumstances.

  • youtu.be/DsdSTY6Y-rs – sawa Jun 6 '14 at 3:08
  • 5
    Traditional tattoos were the whole point of the ban. OK, not this lady's tradition but a tradition nonetheless. – David Richerby Jun 21 '15 at 14:48
4

Now I don't speak any Japanese but this Japan site with tips on Onsen bathing (in German) includes a link to a site with a directory of tattoo-friendly spas/baths/onsen. Since it is in Japanese only and I know next to nothing about that I can't judge for its content, but it does seem very legit.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.