Is Japan relaxing its “no tattoo” policy at onsen?

Japan is home to lots of great things, like the freshest seafood, beautiful scenic spots, mountains, and perhaps the most coveted of all, hot springs, also known as onsen.

It is probably not an exaggeration to say that Japan is the world’s best country for hot springs. After all, it has more than 3,000 hot springs scattered all around the country, making it the country with the most number of hot springs in the world.

While hot springs are loved by many across the world, not everyone is able to patronise a hot spring in Japan, specifically those with tattoos.

Credit: Kashiwaya

Even though tattoos are widely considered to be fashion pieces, Japan still has a stigma against those with tattoos. Based on historical cultures, those with tattoos in Japan are usually associated with the yakuza (gangs) and anti-social people. As such, those with tattoos are usually turned away at onsens.

Credit: Stars and Stripes

However, it seems that there may be some changes to the strict no-tattoo policy due to a recent sighting of a notice that was placed outside a Tokyo onsen.

Experimental policy allowing those with fashion tattoos to enter

According to the notice, Thermae Yu is relaxing their policy on tattoos by allowing those with tattoos to enter conditionally.

Credit: @sim_nagra/Twitter

For women

The notice states that all women, regardless of whether they are Japanese are not, are allowed to use the hot spring if they have a small “fashion tattoo”. However, if they have a tattoo size that is larger than 30cm by 30cm, they would need to cover it up with a bandage before they use the hot spring.

For non-Japanese men

For non-Japanese men who travelled to Japan for a leisure trip, you will be able to enter as long as you present your passport to prove that you’re a foreigner, and you purchase a bandage to cover up your tattoo. Bandages are available at the reception desk of the onsen in two sizes: 80mm by 100mm and 100mm by 145mm. Each bandage costs S$3.61.

Credit: MATCHA

However, Thermae Yu has also stated in the notice that some men might be refused entry if the size of their tattoos are too big.

For Japanese men

Unfortunately, the notice did not mention anything about Japanese men with tattoos being allowed to enter, which implies that it is possible that these men are still out of luck when it comes to visiting an onsen.

Other hot springs in Japan

Thermae Yu is not the only hot spring to have such an experimental policy. In fact, more than 200 onsens in Japan are known to have such policies where they allow those with tattoos to enter.

Some tourists also left comments that some onsens do not publicly advertise that they do allow those with tattoos to enter, perhaps for fear that it may be frowned upon by the locals, but most of them are generally alright with it, especially for foreigners as they understand that the meaning behind tattoos is different for foreigners.

Credit: Lonely Planet

If you’re someone with tattoos and you’re looking to visit Japan sometime in the near future, you can check out Tattoo Spot’s website for a full list of tattoo-friendly onsens in Japan. You can search by geographical location, or even type in the name of the onsen you’re looking to visit.

Alternatively, you can also look for onsens that offer private rooms or hotel rooms that come with onsens so that you’ll be away from the watchful eyes of the locals as you soak away and enjoy the full benefits of the hot spring.

Credit: Maikoya

But the best advice given by both locals and tourists who have been to Japan is, always check with the onsen you’re looking to visit on their tattoo policy. This is the best way you can get a clear answer of which allows and which doesn’t.

Hopefully, as Japan opens up its borders again and receives more tourists, the onsen operators within the country would start to become more relaxed regarding tattoos just like its counterparts.

It may still be a bit too much of a stretch for them to be fine with accepting Japanese people with tattoos, but we hope that with time, Japan would at least be more accepting towards tourists with tattoos in the near future.