Japanese Spas should relax a Tattoo ban


Japan’s tourism agency is asking Japanese spas to relax the policies against tattoos. It’s a little complicated and in this article, I want to talk about this.

Japanese society has the longstanding prejudice against tattooed people. It’s because of association between traditional Japanese tattoos and Yakuza, Japanese criminal organization aka Mafia.

Many Yakuza members (Japanese mafia) have full body tattoos. Enduring enormous pain by getting huge tattoos  is an important initiation ritual for new Yakuza members.

They have to be able to tolerate the pain of getting tattooed for many hours.

I am really sensitive to pain, so I don’t think I can even handle getting a tiny tattoo. But if you want to join Japanese mafia, there are various initiation rituals and getting massive tattoos is one of them.

Because of that, many Japanese onsen businesses have signs to ban tattooed customers from using their services. What they are really saying is that they don’t want Yakuza, members of criminal organizations to use their spa facilities. It’s understandable.

If I am the business owner, I wouldn’t want gangs and yakuzas to become my customers unfortunately.

The issue here is that Japanese spas are so picky about the tattoo policies, so normal tourists with tattoos are often turned away.

In the west, people don’t really have the same level of discrimination against tattooed people. Still professionals should not be showing off their tattoos, and I firmly believe that because I wouldn’t want to see a doctor whose arms are covered with tattoos. Stuff like that.

But I don’t immediately assume or judge someone because of some tattoos on their body parts.

But it is becoming to be an issue, as Japanese government has put a lot of effort trying to increase the number of foreign tourists and more and more people are coming to Japan.

Tattoos are viewed differently based on cultures, foreign tourists would want to try Japan’s famous natural hot spring, onsen and spas.

Another issue is that some onsen businesses in Japan have turned away non-Japanese customers. I read the story about this family and even though the family was Japanese, they didn’t look totally Japanese due to their non-Japanese heritage. It was really silly but the business owner refused to let these people use their services.

That is a shame and it’s a discrimination. So I hope Japanese government would focus on real issues and encourage traditional Japanese stores in the countryside to welcome foreigners even if they are scared and cannot speak English. My old student told me the sad story that he and his friends went to Kyoto and wanted to try a traditional tea house and they were turned away. 🙁

So should Japanese spas relax the policies on tattoos?

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