On 23 June the Japan Tourism Agency (JTA) announced that it would be conducting a first-of-its-kind study into public bathing facilities such as onsen (hot springs) and sento (bath houses), and their rules regarding tattoos.
Visitors to Japan are often warned that if they want to visit one of Japan’s hundreds of natural springs or meticulously designed baths they can’t be inked up. But how widespread is this rule in Japan really, and is it doing more harm than good in this day and age? These are the things the JTA hopes to learn more about in the weeks to come.
Although there is no law specifically regarding tattoos in public bathing spaces, there is legislation such as a provision in the Ryokan Gyoho (Hotel Business Law). This states that an establishment can refuse service if they feel that a customer may perform acts which are illegal or against public morals.
Since for a time tattoos in Japan were largely the mark of organized crime members, it would be enough to establish a risk. More importantly, having scary looking yakuza types around was simply bad for business. So, instead of having a “No yaks!” sign and the beat-down that would surely follow, bath proprietors went with an all-encompassing “no tattoo” policy.
Of course they would lose the minority of law-abiding Japanese citizens with tattoos, but that was an acceptable loss for them. Some places such as Hoshino Resort have amended their policy to allow small tattoos which could be covered with sticky patches. Since yakuza tattoos tended to be large and intricate, this would help separate the mildly rebellious from the violently rebellious.
▼ RocketNews24 also has such a policy during Mankini Mondays
However, now with more and more Japanese people getting tatted and with more and more tattooed foreigners visiting, the losses are beginning to add up. So, the JTA hopes to figure something out before the tourism D-Day that is the 2020 Olympics comes. But before they can do that, they have to understand what the situation actually is.
The questionnaire, which was sent to around 3,700 bathhouses across the country, will ask about each establishment’s policy on tattoos, how they notify and enforce it, and to list any problems that occurred because of their policy in the past. With this information in hand, the JTA plans to come up with a policy that will benefit all parties.
We will have to wait and see what information the survey reveals, but for now perhaps we can start our own.
Thanks to my secret cameras in each of your homes, I have it on good authority that many of our readers have tattoos and enjoy Japanese onsens and sentos. If any of you have stories of rejection or acceptance into Japanese baths, let us know below. Then we can see if our results match those of the JTA when they come out.