Why are tattoos taboo in Japan?
If you didn’t already know, tattoos are taboo in Japan. Although the view on tattoos has changed little by little over the years, it can still be quite difficult for those who have tattoos to enter certain establishments in Japan, such as the famous hot spring, onsen.
In the past in Japan, tattoos were used to mark those who committed a crime. More recently, tattoos are associated with the yakuza, Japanese crime organisations that are heavily involved in all kinds of businesses.
They are fewer in numbers today but for the older generation who remember the yakuza in their heyday, they may be uncomfortable being around tattooed Asians. Tattooed Caucasian or African-Americans, however, are viewed as ‘cool’ or ‘stylish’. In other words, in Asian communities, tattoos are the marks of a criminal; in Western communities they are a fashion trend.
What is it like having Tattoos in Japan nowadays?
Working in Japanese companies with tattoos is also difficult. Many companies may be reluctant to hire tattooed individuals, and may request the ones they do hire to cover all tattoos. This is why most Japanese people don’t tend to have tattoos.
In the past few years, Japan’s views on tattoos have shifted: tattoos are becoming more accepted and are viewed as forms of art rather than as signs of rebellion. More and more of the younger Japanese generation are getting tattoos and, while some may still stare at tattooed individuals walking down the streets, it’s more out of curiosity and interest, not judgement or disgust.
Various Japanese celebrities have tattoos and are proudly showing them off. For example, ATSUSHI from EXILE has multiple tattoos on his body; one of his most famous tattoos is his Indian Warrior tattoo on his left chest. Another famous Japanese celebrity that has tattoos is Namie Amuro; she has a couple of tattoos on her left arm and a few on her left wrist.
How to enter onsen with tattoos?
Although things have been changing, there are still a large number of establishments that forbid tattooed people. For example, onsen, public baths, swimming pools, gyms and public beaches.
For those of you who have tattoos and who wish to experience the famous hot spring—one of the most special and beautiful parts about Japanese culture—we have gathered together some of the best options for you.
Firstly, there are two kinds of baths: onsens and sentos.
On the other hand, translates to “hot source”. To be qualified as an onsen in Japan, the source of the onsen has to be at least 25 degrees and has to meet certain criteria regarding water elements and mineral content.
Sento translates to “coin” and “hot water”. Sentos are public baths and they’ve become more and more popular as homes in Japan are built smaller and smaller, making it harder for people to take baths at home. A lot more sentos allow tattoos than onsens due to their more casual nature.
If you wish to enter an onsen that doesn’t allow tattoos, you can get a seal to cover up your tattoos. They are easy to use and cheap. You can easily cover up your tattoos with these skin coloured seals and enjoy the onsen. Unfortunately, these will only work with smaller tattoos. If you’ve got larger tattoos, you can try out a sento instead.
Here’s a list of onsens and sentos that allow tattooed people in.
This sento might not be the fanciest but it is located very conveniently just five minutes from Iidashi Station, in Shinjuku ward. Renewed in 2018, this place has high-concentration carbonic bath, jet bath, open-air bath and even sauna.
- Opening hours: 15:00-25:30
- Closed: Wednesdays
- URL: https://spa-tokyo.net/z-t-dai3-tama/index.html
- Adult: 470
- Children: 180
- Sauna: 1000
Takaban Yu ぽかぽかランド鷹番の湯
Takaban Yu advertises their spring water with cyanuric acid that can speed up your metabolism and give your skin a glow. There are two types of saunas here: high-heat dry sauna, and salt sauna. They also have a beautiful outdoor sauna where you can enjoy the peace and quiet. On top of that, there are many different types of jacuzzis and baths here for you to experience.
- Opening hours: 15:00-24:30
- Closed: Friday, 1st, 3rd, 5th Thursday
- URL: www.takaban-yu.com/
- Address: 東京都目黒区鷹番２丁目２−1
- Adult 470
- Children 180
- Infant 80
- Sauna 460
Mannenyu is situated in the very center of the city. It is just one stop, or about 15 minutes walk from Shinjuku, in the popular Shinokubo, Korea town. Mannenyu provides free body washes, shampoos and face towels. The inside of the facility is clean and comfortable with multiple baths for you to enjoy and relax in.
- Opening hours: 15:00-24:00
- URL: https://mannenyu.jp/
- Address: 東京都新宿区大久保1-15-17
- Adult: 470
- Children: 180
- Kindergarten children: 80
Soshigaya onsen そしがや温泉
This onsen has a wide range of baths for you to experience. It is emphasised that the spring water they have here is “black spring water”, with elements that over the years have the ability to rejuvenate your body, skin and health. They have a mini swimming pool for their customers to swim in. Sauna is also available here at this facility. Outside the baths, there is a reading corner for those who need to take a breather.
- Opening hours: 14:00-25:00
- URL: http://www.soshigaya-onsen21.com/
- Address: 東京都世田谷区祖師谷3-36-21
- Adult: 470
- Children: 180
- Infant: 80
- Sauna: 330
Shimizuyu is one of the few natural onsen in Tokyo. They have two types of natural spring water: the golden spring water and the black spring water. As mentioned earlier when introducing the Soshigaya onsen, black spring water is said to have incredible elements that can nourish and rejuvenate. Golden spring water is said to have healing powers for those that have pains and injuries.
Shimizuyu has various baths including jacuzzis and an outdoor bath. There is also a resting area to rest in if you’re feeling overheated. They have a rock bath as well, a bath that has gained a lot of popularity in recent years. With rocks made from a mountain in Korea, it is said that lying in the rock bath fastens your metabolism and blood circulation, enhancing rest and sleep quality. Sauna is also available here with incense to enhance relaxation.
- URL: http://www.shimizuyu.com/
- Address: 東京都品川区小山3-9-1
- Weekdays 12:00～24:00
- Saturday 12:00～24:00
- Sunday 8:00～24:00
- Closed: Mondays
- Adult: 470 yen
- Junior high school student: 300 yen
- Child: 180 yen
- Kindergarten children: free
- Rock bath: 1,400 yen (women only)
- Sauna: 400 yen
Thermae-yu is amazing and deserves a small shout-out. Although they allow tattooed people to enter, they require them to cover them up with the aforementioned skin-coloured patches, available at the front desk. Also mentioned earlier, these patches will only work with smaller tattoos.
Thermae-yu is definitely a place you can enjoy for a long time. They have natural onsens, rock baths, aauna, massages, restaurants and cafes and a lot more. There’s also a huge open-air onsen.
One of the most special parts about this place is their large variety of rock baths. They have five types of rock baths, divided between male and female. It is said that these rock baths have healing powers and the ability to relax and rejuvenate.
If you want to find out more about this bath, check out our blog about Thermae-Yu here.