Tattoos and Hot Springs (onsen) – tattoo-friendly hot springs in Japan and how to find them

tattoo hot spring in japan

Are there tattoo-friendly hot springs in Japan? How can you find out if they will let you in and how can you make sure you don’t miss out this unique experience of getting in hot springs while travelling in Japan? Why do they care if you have tattoos or not in the first place?

Why tattoos are taboos in Hot Springs in Japan

It has been a custom in Japan to prohibit people with tattoos to use public onsen, hot springs.

That was because tattoos meant connection to Japanese mafia, Yakuza, for a long time. Tattooed skin indicated  that the person had pledged to be a member of a crime syndicate. It was similar to a shortened finger. They have rituals to show their loyalty and commitment to mafia organization in which one cuts off one of their fingers in front of other members.

Because tattoos in Japan have such a history, it is understandable that other guests did not appreciate seeing someone with tattoos in hot springs. Not many people prefer being close to a mafia member, obviously.

It is not the same in other countries, of course. But it takes time to bend the rules, especially because hot springs are popular among older generations.

I hope you understand this background and won’t be offended by this custom. Let me offer you some tips, though, because I see there are changes made to accommodate tourists from overseas. I don’t want you to leave Japan feeling rejected. Hot Springs is a must-do thing in Japan and the door is open for people with tattoos if they know where to go and what to do.

Here are recent data in favor of tattoos

Japanese Tourism Agency performed a survey about this issue in 2015.

They sent out questionnaire to 3800 hotels and inns with hot springs and got response from 600 facilities (approx 15%). The original data on JTA web site is here, but in Japanese.

1) Do you allow customers with tattoos to bathe in hot springs.

No – 56%
Yes – 31%
Yes, when tattoos are hidden by stickers – 13%

2) Background and reasons for not allowing customers with tattoos to bathe

Independently decided for moral and sanitary reasons – 59%
Local trade and industry decision – 13% Police and/or municipal governments’ requests
You can use foundation tape to hide tattoos.

How can you find out the hot springs allow guests with tattoos?

Have specific hot spring resort in mind?

Contact Tourist Information of the town. It might be quicker for you to call instead of sending email. But if you are going to a small hot spring town, chances are they don’t have anyone who speak English well enough to communicate with you over the phone. In such a case, find a hotel nearby and call the front desk. Hotels tend to have someone who can speak English even if it’s a small town.

You can find the information about Tourist Information Centers here. Use Skype to call from overseas to avoid expensive charges.

If you don’t have specific hot springs in mind, but want to try a hot spring in Japan, you can find a list of onsens that welcome you here.

Need help? Leave me a comment and I’ll be happy to help you 🙂

Fail-safe choices for a family and a couple

Actually, there is a fail-safe option for you in most of hotels and inns.

Go to any hot springs, but ask for “Kazoku Buro”, which literally means “Family tub”.

Majority of inns have this facility these days. It was meant for families who want to enjoy the hot spring together as public onsens are almost always gender-segregated.

Different facilities have different rules for using a family tub, but those rules are for reserving the tub for a certain time frame or for taking turns.

The tub tends to be smaller than public ones, but the spring water is the same. Some family tubs are located ourside (roten-buro), but some are only inside.

Roten-buro is normally situated in a beautiful Japanese garden. So, if you want to experience that, but want to avoid any troubles with your tattoos, I have another safe bet for you.

Reserve a room with an exclusive outside hot spring tub. It is normally called “Heya-tsuki roten”. You can ask a travel agent to find one with heya-tsuki roten.

And of course, feel free to ask me. Let me know which hot spring town you are heading to. I can get back to you with a recommendation.

Enjoy hot springs in Japan!

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