Tattoos acceptable in Japan?...

Old May 15th, 2006, 12:55 AM
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Tattoos acceptable in Japan?...

Hi, all. So my Japan vacation planning continues apace. I bought my tickets Friday night, and I'll be touching down in Osaka on October 3.

But in the meantime, I've got a cultural question for those more familiar with Japan than I. To wit: It's come to my attention that in certain locations--public baths, onsen, some capsule hotels--people with tattoos are not welcome. I gather this has to do with yakuza affiliations, or the suspicion thereof.

Well, not to put too fine a point on it, but I've got tattoos. Big ones. Lots of them. The kind you can't disguise with a band-aid, you know?

From what y'all understand, will this pose a problem for me if I try to use the sundry onsen, or if my hotel has a shared, rather than a private, bath? I swear I'm not yakuza! I'm just a nice girl from the San Francisco area who likes a little (okay, a lot) of body art.

Thoughts?

Many thanks,
Kim D.
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Old May 15th, 2006, 02:26 AM
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You will not be allowed to use public baths of any sort, including the ones in hotels. You will also not be allowed to use swimming pools or gyms. While there are a few exceptions to what I've generalized, they are few and far between.

And, in addition, you may find getting service in some restaurants and hotels to be problematic as well. I'll be blunt...tattoos are just not an accepted part of life here. Honestly, I can't remember seeing a tattoo on anyone in the 11 years we've lived in Japan.

You will need to cover them somehow in order to be graciously welcomed, and don't even try to use public baths and pools, as everyone would be very embarrassed and uncomfortable...first for noticing, then for staring, then for having to ask you to leave. If you can keep the tattoos out of sight, your trip will be great....but if they just can't be hidden...I don't know...you might want to rethink your destination.

I'm not at all anti-tattoo...my brother has almost his entire body covered with gorgeous Japanese style ones....but it's just not accepted here as it is in the states.

Probably not what you wanted to hear...sorry about that. Better to know what to expect though.
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Old May 15th, 2006, 09:16 AM
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Wow. So it's really that verboten? Well, even though it WASN'T the news I was looking for, I can't thank you enough for your candid reply, KimJapan.

And as I've already bought the plane tickets, I guess I'm going to have to figure out how to make this work! (Good thing I'm going in October, when it'll probably be cool enough for me to wear long sleeves and pants.)

In addition to wearing long sleeves and pants, would finding hotels and ryokan (gosh, I reeeaaally want to stay in ryokan) with private baths eliminate much of the problem? Do the sleeves on yukata reach far enough to cover the forearms?

I had no idea...

Many thanks,
Kim D.
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Old May 15th, 2006, 10:49 AM
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I think it will be cool enough in October that you can wear long sleeves and pants and cover up. I stayed at a ryokan in Hakone that had a privte outdoor bath attached to my room, which would have been good for you. And I know there are ryokans that have baths that can be reserved to use privately (sometimes during certain hours, if not at any time). I guess it depends on where you are going and if you can find either of those types of places. If I was you, I'd look for those types of places and book them ASAP.

I think if you plan to dress appropriately you can do ok w/this. It would be too bad if you didn't get to go to Japan because of this.
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Old May 15th, 2006, 02:08 PM
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There are many ryokan that have private baths in the room. You will miss out on the variety of baths in the public ones, but you'll still get to soak in private.

October can be hot, especially early in the month. Plan on light weight long sleeved blouse type shirts or breathable athletic wear. The yukata have long sleeves with wide openings, so a long sleeved t-shirt underneath would be necessary I think.

Do come to Japan and enjoy. If no one sees the tattoos, you'll be just fine.
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Old May 15th, 2006, 09:47 PM
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Do you guys have any idea what a help you are? I really appreciate your wisdom and encouragement.

And I'm NOT going to give up on going to Japan over this. I'm prepared to adapt; I'm already a more or less modest dresser, and don't mind long sleeves in Octobor (it's something of a uniform here in the San Francisco area anyway).

My main concern is that I simply not give offense, or be offended myself. And I figure that if I treat my hosts with respect, I'll have done my part.

Thanks so much once again!

Domo arigato,
Kim D.
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Old May 24th, 2006, 11:35 PM
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I had a talk with a few of my friends and I am not sure that I share KimJapan's pessimistic thoughts. If you were Japanese I would agree but as a foreigner you might get some looks with tattoos but other than looks and whispers I do not think you will have much of a problem in Japan.
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Old May 25th, 2006, 12:25 AM
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Going about daily tourist things would not be so problematic. But she asked about baths, onsen...there, she would not be allowed. My view is not pessimistic...it's just the way it is. And, unfortunately, even foreigners without tattoos are sometimes denied entry to public baths and onsens. A lawsuit where 3 individuals sued some onsen and the city of Otaru in Hokkaido was finally decided this past year after a few years of court...one of the men involved was an American who became a naturalized Japanese citizen and was refused entry to many public baths in Otaru due to his looking un-Japanese.

The point, anyway, is that someone with big, easily visible tattoos WILL encounter trouble when trying to use any public facility involving bathing or swimming. A small butterfly tattoo on the ankle would likely be overlooked, but as KiimmyD describes her tattoos, there would be no overlooking them at all.
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Old May 25th, 2006, 02:35 AM
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Kim D. has a thread on this same tattoo topic on the japan-guide.com forum. I think it is likely the same Kim D. as the Kim D. here, as the thread was started the day after this one and she is going to Osaka and her name is Kim D. It is interesting that she got the same response on that forum as KimJapan gave her here, that many places have no tattoo rules, although there are some rare exceptions. One person there said he had a few tattoos (sounds like less than what Kim D. describes) and has been kicked out but not every time, and did say there was one onsen exception where he had been allowed to bathe (Kurama). And someone gave her the same advice I did here, saying to try the places where you can reserve the bath privately.

http://www.japan-guide.com/forum/que...y.html?0+25621

Kim, let us know how it goes when you get back.
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Old May 25th, 2006, 04:06 AM
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I think everyone owes a big debt of gratitude to KimD for being aware of the cross-cultural issue and doing her best to be a Good Tourist. Thank you!
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Old May 25th, 2006, 04:31 AM
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I asked my wife about this too & she said more or less a combination of what everyone else has said - absolute no to onsen & public baths, but probably okay everywhere else given that its a non-Japanese person (at least assuming KiimmyD doesn't look Japanese)...bigger, more metropolitan areas obviously being a bit more comfortable with it...

Curiously, my wife (Japanese) has a tattoo near her right shoulder but she could use a band-aid if she needed to - although I don't think she's covered it up the last few times we've been to a bath/onsen...
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Old Jun 7th, 2006, 05:14 AM
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I've lived in Japan for 6 years. I've got a 6 inch upper arm tattoo (only 1 though). Before I go to any onsens my wife calls to make sure it's o.k. So far I have had no problems. Because I'm a foreigner they're a little more excepting. Also my wife is Japanese so maybe that makes them a little more comfortable. However, if you've got multiple tattoos I don't think you're going to have much luck with that. I had a budy with about 5 tattoos. He joined a health club. In order to work out or swim he had to have the tattoos covered. He used spandex sleeves to do it. You're gaijin so you might not encounter too many problems other than that especially if you stay in the metropolitan areas. If you go more rural, I think you're more likely to encounter some of the general problems with service that KimJapan spoke of. Tokyo and Yokohama, I think you'd be o.k. Like KimJapan says, tattoos are not an accepted part of life here. They were formerly associated with Yakuza and American sailors (there is a Navy base near Yokohama). However, there is a growing segment of young Japanese kids starting to get tattoos. There are now some very good tattoo studios around Tokyo (they used to be much more discrete). But tradition is hard to beat and even the kids who are getting tattoos aren't getting the kind of large body art that you see in the states. Getting a yin/yang symbol or a fairy tattooed on your shoulder is, for a Japanese kid, the equivalent of getting a full back piece done in the States. Are you staying the whole trip in Osaka? The reason I ask is that the yakuza is especially associated with southern Japan (almost like the mob in the U.S. might be associated with New York or Chicago). This may very well make the people of southern Japan much more sensitive to your body art. If you are going to be traveling to the Tokyo/Yokohama area, my advice to you is to think about where you are. If you're having dinner in a nice restaraunt then don't wear the strapless dress exposing all the tattoos. If you're partying the night away in Rappongi, show the tats. Definitely dress modestly and conceal them as much as possible when visiting a holy place.
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Old Jun 7th, 2006, 05:19 AM
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I accidently posted that too quick. As an additional note, no one will think you're yakuza (unless you're Asian American in which case that's a whole different story...) However, I would advise you NOT to make any yakuza references/jokes during your trip. The word itself is one of those unspoken words. The Japanese get uncomfortable and sometimes offended just at its mention. This may be obvious, but I'm mentioning it because I've seen perfectly nice, well intentioned people create very uncomfortable situations by doing it.
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Old Jun 7th, 2006, 05:25 AM
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jak1975 is right about mentioning the yakusa.

My husband casually said the word when we were out one night. You should have seen the reaction of our son (who lives in Japan right now). He freaked. He told us to say "Japanese Mafia" instead, as most Japanese would not know what we were saying.

Since your first concern seemed to be not to give offense (a wonderful sentiment), I thought I would reiterate.
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Old Jun 7th, 2006, 08:19 AM
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hi kim d.,

my experience is: I have two small tattoos, one on each shoulder, and I went to an onsen in tokyo, and it wasn't a big deal, probably because i didn't know it was out of the ordinary, and, like i said, my tattoos are rather small.

in kyoto, we stayed at the hotel granvia, and i used the pool on multiple occasions. i noticed a sign by the front desk that said "no tattoos". it kind of jarred me, and i felt a little self-conscious after that.

so maybe it will be hard to use the onsen, but if you go to harajuku on a sunday, the kids there will worship you.

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