Yomiuri: More Japanese public baths OK tattooed visitors (particularly NJ) for 2020 Olympics: suddenly it’s all about showing “understanding of foreign cultures”


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With that amount of busy-ness (sorry for the delay in posting to Debito.org), please let me turn the keyboard to Debito.org Reader JK:


Hi Debito: It looks this has grown legs and started walking, so if you’ll indulge me for a few minutes, I’ll provide some overdue commentary:

More baths OK tattooed visitors; stickers needed
The Yomiuri Shimbun, August 25, 2015

Restrictions on tattooed customers at bathing facilities and resort swimming areas are being loosened around the country.

A number of facilities allow people with tattoos to enter if the tattoos can be covered by stickers. This is aimed at treating foreign tourists, many of whom consider tattoos a fashion item, differently from gangsters, some of whom sport elaborate tattoos.

With the Olympics and Paralympics scheduled for Tokyo in 2020, some facilities are calling for greater understanding of cultural differences.

At Ofuro cafe utatane, a bathing facility in Kita Ward, Saitama, which is visited by about 250,000 people annually, the management decided to allow tattoos that can be covered with 12.8-centimeter by 18.2-centimeter stickers.

The new policy was started on a trial basis from Aug. 1. If no problems arise by the end of the month, the facility will officially implement the policy.

The manager of the facility, Toshiki Yamasaki, 32, is also director of the Nippon Ofuro Genki Project, an association of young managers of baths and other facilities.

“The number of foreign tourists has increased, so I felt we needed to accept tattoos as a form of culture,” he said.

Hoshino Resort Co., which manages 33 luxury hotel resorts and other facilities in Japan and abroad, has also decided to exempt customers from bathing restrictions if their tattoos can be covered by an eight-centimeter by 10-centimeter sticker starting from October.

A midsize hot spring resort in Niseko, Hokkaido, lifted restrictions on tattoos this spring.

The local ski resort is popular with foreign tourists because of the good snow quality.

“I believe we need to understand cultural differences with other countries,” the hotel manager said, adding that restrictions on gang members were still in place.

Baths, resorts and other facilities began banning all tattoos, including full-body irezumi tattoos, after the Antigang Law went into effect in 1992, though in practice some places admit tattooed customers.

The Japan Tourism Agency surveyed about 3,700 facilities nationwide in June to learn how the restrictions were affecting foreign travelers.

Tsuru University Prof. Yoshimi Yamamoto, an expert on tattoo issues, said: “The circumstances are such that facilities have no choice but to change their response. Easing restrictions can help shake up conventions.”




1) Having a tattoo in Japan while being foreign AND not being a yakuza is an idea that is just now gaining traction?!

2) The (faulty) underlying assumption at work is that all yakuza have tattoos.

3) Suppose an NJ has several tattoos, or tattoos that cannot be covered by a single sticker, or even a full-body tattoo (surprise — just like yakuza, NJ get these too!), then what? More stickers? If so how may? Is ‘good enough’ coverage acceptable, or is perfection mandatory?

4) Despite the lack of a link to a Japanese translation, the idea being conveyed is that NJ with tattoos are outside of societal norms (read: betsuwaku), and so should not be treated as a yakuza since money can be made off them — this notion is beautifully illustrated by Mr. Toshiki Yamasaki who says, “The number of foreign tourists has increased, so I felt we needed to accept tattoos as a form of culture”.

5) Does the Antigang Law of 1992 actually have wording in it to the effect that onsen / sento operations are not permitted to admit persons with tattoos?

a) If not, then in the name of ‘understanding cultural differences with other countries’, let me into the Niseko hotel without requiring my tattoos to be covered!

b) If so, then put up a sign saying ‘No Japanese Gangsters Allowed’ and let me in with my tattoos uncovered — it’s not like such a sign would be breaking the law — to the contrary, it would be upholding it!!

6) Allowing the operator of a onsen / sento to determine someone’s ‘kakuzaness’ is akin to allowing them to determine ‘foreignness’ — in other words, the door is left open to abuse. -JK



During the Otaru Onsens Case, where “Japanese Only” bathhouses were excluding customers because they didn’t look “Japanese” enough, one issue that was raised was, “Well, what about tattoos, then?” — and then conflated the two issues to muddy the debate with relativity (not to mention conflate the treatment of “foreigners” with the treatment of organized crime in Japan).  Debito.org has always seen tattoos as a different issue from skin color and other features determined from birth, as tattoos are something a person decides to put on themselves.  That said, this sudden “change of heart” (dressed up as a “respect for” and “understanding of” foreign cultures) is ahistorical and purely motivated by economics — i.e., the need for Japan to put on a good show for international events without the embarrassment of having bigots continue to cloak their exclusionary behavior with the specter of potential criminal activity (and there has been at least one case where “respect for foreign culture” involving tattoos didn’t matter one whit).

I conclude:  What’s at play here isn’t fair-mindedness.  It’s merely the phenomenon of “not in front of the foreigners”, especially since pretty soon there will be millions of them watching Japan.  I bet that once the Olympics pass, those open-minded rules will be rescinded and managers will revert to banning customers (particularly NJ) at whim all over again.  This isn’t the tack that JK is taking above, but that’s what I see.  Dr. ARUDOU, Debito

8 comments on “Yomiuri: More Japanese public baths OK tattooed visitors (particularly NJ) for 2020 Olympics: suddenly it’s all about showing “understanding of foreign cultures”

  • Tattoos are strange things all over the world. In the US, visible tattoos can prevent people from getting promoted, or even hired for many jobs. There is a stereotype that someone who would get a tattoo cannot be responsible enough to lead.

    Well, the situation in Japan is bizarre and not the same. I’ve chatted with many people about tattoo rules and they say that it’s supposed to be a disease question, as if somehow tons of tattoo holders used dirty needles and are infectious now, years after getting their tattoos, somehow. Since the presence or lack of tattoo is not a good test of yakuza-ness, and people realize this after thinking for 2 seconds, few people bring it up.

    Of course arbitrary rules about who can and can’t enter a business are scary, because the trend to ban classes of people is too real.

  • I think the whole tatoo thing is a fad in the U.S. that never went away. It used to be tats were for people in jail or the military, usually showing your branch, unit etc or for gangs. About 10 years ago, everybody starting to get “inked” Many with koi and sakura tats, some with ridiculous kanji or hiragana. Honestly, as I come from a generation before all this,it seems shallow to me, and signals that person perhaps has issues with their self image, but thats just my opinion. I dont think in the U.S. they discriminate against them as almost everyone has them now. In Japan, they were reserved for the yaks and the clans, so obvisouly, if you were inked, it was a signal of what part of society you dealt with. So, I have never felt that to be discriminatory; its very much a cultural thing. Now that everyone is getting “tatted up” its lost its appeal and intrigue.

  • Well, let’s see if it lasts after the Olympics have finished.
    Let’s see what happens if any of the Olympic swimmers have tattoos that they don’t want to cover up when they compete, because they have to be streamlined?

    At the end of the day, Japan is still lauding as ‘innovation’, the idea that you have to ‘accept’ that something is ‘different from Japan’.
    In the 21st century.
    In a country that aspires to be a ‘global influence’.

    This debate is so last century, we should be ROTFL at the fact that the Japanese are having this conversation with straight faces.

  • We all know what the deal is. They’re just worried about embarrassing stories of racism and discrimination going out to the world during the Olympics. Of course we mustn’t let that happen. So everyone, control yourselves at least until all the non-pure blooded barbarians have left Japan. Then you can go back to normal.

  • “2) The (faulty) underlying assumption at work is that all yakuza have tattoos.”
    No, the underlying assumption is that ONLY yakuza have tattoos.

  • I don’t know, I’m cautiously optimistic. There are still five years until the olympics, which is more than enough time to see the maritime pros and cons of such a move. It gives them time to work out the kinks. Conversely, it also gives them time to say “yeahp, this is a pain” and scrap the idea, but still. In a best case scenario, the big touristy places get a whiff of increased seasonal income from foreign tourists who were previously too scared to even attempt to go to onsen because of these ridiculous rules, and even after the games end, they’ll be too scared of the loss of income to revert back to previous policies.

    I’m perhaps too optimistic in this, but if business owners are coming out and saying, “ya, okay, we’ll give it a shot, see how it goes” then I’m willing to wait and see how it turns out.

    As is the case with lots of issues, I get the impression people change their ideas to accommodate profits. Sure, the concepts behind the bans now are ridiculous and full of holes. Makes me look forward all the more to watching them try to explain those things away when the bottom line changes.

  • In June this year I spent 2 nights at a wonderful resort hotel in Okinawa:

    Have a look at their policy regarding tattoos:

    On their English site they don’t mention tattoos at all:
    On their Japanese site, however, they are (politely) requesting guests with tattoos not to expose them in the pool areas:

    Personal conclusion:
    (1)With Okinawa heavily relying on revenue from overseas tourists, they are probably taking a softer approach towards foreigners.
    (2)If you are able to read English and Japanese, I recommend to always read both sites anywhere in Japan. The content can often be quite different.

  • Hi Debito:

    The articles below expand on some of the points I brought up (e.g. #5: There is no legal basis for refusing to allow a person with tattoos to bathe at a hot spring / 入れ墨を理由に入浴を拒む法的根拠はない):

    Hot springs easing restrictions on tattoos as Japan welcomes more foreign visitors

    チェック:入れ墨入浴、緩和の動き 訪日客増え、シールで隠せば

    From the articles:

    “The association has never called on its members to ban people with tattoos; rather, individual facilities restrict entry of their own accord.”



    “The only measure to prevent an increase in people associated with gangs is to refuse entry to those who make other visitors feel uncomfortable through actions such as roughly raising their voices, regardless of whether they have tattoos or not.”


    So, is the best outcome that can be hoped for is for sento / onsen operators to put up signs saying, ‘We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone’?



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