Many foreign visitors to Japan are curious about taking a dip in one of Japan’s many hot springs or sento public baths, but are deterred by two factors: the embarrassment of being naked in public, and the worry that even having a small tattoo – very much taboo in Japan – might result in being ejected from the premises. While the first issue is something that can be overcome with a little bravery, the second issue is undoubtedly a problem.

However, a resort inn in Nagano has now publicly stated that they will allow foreigners with small tattoos to enter, providing they cover up the offending ink with a patch.

In general, people with tattoos are forbidden from entering hot springs or public baths in Japan. The most commonly-held opinion is that this is a roundabout justification for keeping yakuza (who are known for their love of all-over body tattoos) out of establishments where they might cause mischief, or simply freak out other bathers by their mere presence.

But what about foreigners, who are much more likely to have a bit of innocent inkwork lurking around their ankles or shoulders, compared to your average Japanese person?

I’ve known foreigners here in Japan with tattoos who have happily waded their way through many an onsen without anybody making a peep of complaint. However, I’ve also heard stories from people who were turned away, or asked to leave, sometimes during the act of bathing itself. Some of these people were blonde or redheaded North American women (probably not the easiest candidate for confusing with a yakuza…). So the old “tattoo = yakuza” justification doesn’t reeeally stand up here.

Flickr  © Ryan Latta

Hoshino Resort in Nagano Prefecture went on the record on April 15 to say that they would welcome foreign (or, indeed, Japanese) visitors with “small” tattoos, as long as those tattoos were properly covered up with waterproof patches or stickers. The stickers, which measure 8cm x 10cm, will be provided by the resort, and as long as as single sticker manages to fully cover your tattoo, you’ll be granted access to the facilities.

Perhaps this new move by Hoshino resort is hinting at an increasing trend of acceptance throughout Japan’s hot springs and sento resorts. With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics fast approaching, the country is expecting increased amounts of foreign visitors, and tourist establishments could lose out on a lot of revenue by openly banning people purely because they have tattoos.

 ▼ Unfortunately, these fine fellows would still be out of luck even with the new rules.

Flick © Simon Cumming

A spokesperson for Hoshino Resort explained the motivations behind the new ruling: “There is little justification for us to deny access to people with small tattoos. With the increase in foreign customers, we believe that it is time for a new set of rules.”

Source: Yahoo! Japan News
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