Select one of the frequently asked questions below to learn more about tattoo-friendly facilities in Japan.
Questions about tattoos
Why are facilities strict on people with tattoos?
There is a long, negative history about tattoos in Japan and this has continued to present day. Recent mindsets have been becoming more open to tattoos, especially foreigners with tattoos, yet still have a long ways to go before changing all of Japan.
There are many reasons that are under a lot of historical context. Yakuza, or Japanese gangs, have made a large impact on this. The sense of “body purity” in the traditional mindset has been ingrained in many people as well.
What are the laws on tattoo artists in Japan?
Until recently, this topic was not an issue. In 2017, a ruling by the Osaka court all but banned tattoo parlors throughout Japan. This is because tattooing is considered a medical practice therefore must be done by a doctor.
There are no tattoo licenses in Japan.
In 2017 as well, a tattoo artist in Osaka was convicted guilty for giving a tattoo without a medical practitioners license, showing that the government isn’t out to target customers but the artists.
Despite the rarely-enforced law requiring a medical practitioners license, there are many tattoo parlors in Japan that openly accept customers.
Questions about facilities
What should I know about entering a facility with visible tattoos?
Because the general mindset in Japan is still relatively negative to tattoos, be mindful of those around you. You can’t help having visible tattoos, especially in the intensely hot summers, so simply have good manners, act responsibly and do not be rowdy as locals will often associate rowdiness with tattoos.
If possible, covering tattoos, especially in rural areas, can be seen as polite as to not attract attention.
Is it OK to enter a facility that says "No Tattoos"?
We cannot recommend entering any place that prohibits tattoos, but keep in mind that it has been done often enough by travelers unable to read Japanese (or even those who can).
Although we don’t condone it, if you still accept the risk of being kicked out of the facility, we advise you to be as non-conspicuous as possible, hiding the tattoos with seals, taping, hand towels (if small enough), etc.
On top of this, mind your manners and be on your best behavior wherever you go as many people will often let it pass (It’s hard to be angry at someone who has said please and thank you, especially in Japanese).
What are important "Kanji" I should know before entering a facility?
男 Otoko “male”
Bath houses and onsen will have this sign to designate the men’s side of the baths.
女 Onna “female”
Opposite from the above, this kanji represents the women’s side of the baths.
ゆ Yu “hot water”
This is actually “hiragana” for “Yu” in the simplified Japanese alphabet. It is often placed as a sign on the outside of a bath house or onsen. It does not make a distinction between natural onsen baths or regular hot water baths.
温泉 Onsen “natural hot spring”
This kanji is only used for naturally occurring hot springs therefore won’t be used for regular bathhouses.
禁止 Kinshi “prohibition”
This kanji may often be in red as it shows when something is not allowed. Often used with a cigarette or tattoo symbol, guests should be wary and look closely if the following symbol appears next to this.
刺青 Irezumi “tattoo”
The kanji for tattoo is called “irezumi” but it may also appear in katakana as “タトゥー“. If this kanji or word is paired with 禁止 or 厳禁, please know that tattoos are probably prohibited in the establishment.
厳禁 Genkin “strict prohibition”
Also a kanji that is often paired with 刺青 but also may be paired with a non-smoking sign as well.
タバコ Tabako “cigarettes”
Not a kanji nor related to tattoos, this word is often used with a prohibition kanji above. Many establishments have been banning smoking indoors, sometimes even outdoors in large cities, so please be careful where you smoke and ask the staff if there is a designated smoking area.
Nowadays, there have been a growing number of smoking areas in the cities for guests to use.
What are some tips to know about beaches in Japan?
Up until recently, tattooed users would stick to going to spots where tattoos don’t bother people. These are often either very popular and large beaches or very private and secluded beaches. Also, many beaches haven’t found tattoos to be a problem and haven’t created any rules for them.
Now, tattooed guests and tourists have started visiting more and more beaches causing the cities to decide whether or not they should allow tattooed guests to come, or if they have to cover up or not.
Generally, a large majority of beaches ask that you cover up your tattoos and be mindful of others. This usually isn’t seriously enforced, especially if your tattoos aren’t conspicuous. If they are very large or eye-catching tattoos that may cause a disturbance, a lifeguard or staff may ask you to cover up!Remember to always have good manners and to try not to cause a disturbance. It is easy for one ill-mannered tattooed guest to create a negative image for everyone else, so please be careful and help educate nearby people that “tattoos” are not “bad”!
Some helpful beach vocabulary…
1. Beach Stand (umi no ie) : A wooden shack built in the summer that serves food and drink and often have showers.
2. Tattoo Correspondence (tatoo no taiyo) : Official rules and information regarding tattoos gathered about the beach
3. Obon Week : Is a week in mid-August to celebrate the spirits of the dead. Many people are on holiday this week and beaches are often very crowded with people and events.