Today we are answering the question, “Are tattoos allowed in Japan?”
Actually, tattoos are fine in Japan. They’re not illegal in any way. You may even see some people walking around with tattoos, especially in Tokyo.
Although some people in Japan have tattoos, they are usually hidden underneath clothing. In the past, there have been reports of some companies that have fired employees when they found out that they had a tattoo, so many young people in Japan don’t want to get a tattoo or publicly display their tattoos.
Rules in Japan
First, it’s important to understand rules in Japan.
In Japan, a rule is a rule. You don’t really question a rule, you just obey it.
For example, if there is a sign that says, No Tattoos, then that’s it. There are no exceptions. It is not up for debate. In this case, even a small butterfly, kanji character, or cute Hello Kitty tattoo is not allowed. No tattoos is no tattoos. It’s pointless to argue about it.
Rules are displayed via signs. Everyone is expected to read and obey the signs, which prevents confrontations between the owner and the customers.
We’ve heard some tourists say that their tattoo was okay, because no one said anything to them. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that it was okay. It just means that the owner didn’t want to have a confrontation.
Keep in mind that just because no one says anything, doesn’t mean it’s okay. It’s possible that no one will say anything at all, but you still may be upsetting the people around you.
Where to Cover Up
So, where should you cover your tattoo? Walking around town is perfectly fine, especially in the big cities.
However, you’re going to want to cover up when you visit anywhere that is traditional, such as temples, shrines, and ryokan. Even if there isn’t a posted rule, it is respectful to cover your tattoos in these places. You could simply wear long sleeves, a scarf, or a bandage, especially if it’s small.
Where Tattoos are Banned
Tattoos are banned at most onsen hot springs, swimming pools, water parks, and beaches. It’s safe to assume all onsen do not allow tattoos, unless it is otherwise stated. Again, this applies to tourists and even the tiny, butterfly tattoo.
If you ignore the rule and try anyway, the longtime customers at the onsen may complain to the staff. This can bring about an embarrassing situation that is uncomfortable for you and for everyone around you, which may not be the authentic Japanese experience you want to have.
If this does happen and you’re asked to leave, you should simply apologize and leave. Don’t try to argue and get into a confrontation.
What You Should Do
So, what should you do if you have a tattoo? First, you can try visiting onsen and ryokan that allow tattoos. Contact them in advance and ask if tattoos are okay. They will advertise themselves as tattoo friendly on their website. One example is Kusatsu. Kusatsu is an onsen town that openly welcomes guests with tattoos.
Another option is to reserve a private or family bath, which are available at some onsen. This is the route we take for people on our tours who have tattoos.
Or you can use a waterproof bandage to cover up a small tattoo. These bandages are usually sold at drugstores in Japan. Keep in mind that you may still get dirty looks if it’s quite noticeable.
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