When visiting a hot spring or swimming pool in Japan, have you ever seen a warning that prohibits tattooed people from entering the area?
Unlike other countries, tattoos are considered a taboo in Japan and have a bad impression. This causes most swimming pool facilities, hot springs, sports centers, and ryokan (Japanese-style inns) to prohibit guests who have tattoos to enter.
Actually there is a historical reason as to why tattoos are considered a taboo! This features provides an insight into the tattoo culture of Japan.
Tattoo Culture in Japan
In other countries, tattoos are considered fashionable and cool, but in Japan, tattoos have a complicated background.
In Japan, there are two different types of tattoos: Japanese-style tattoos called Wabori, and Western-style tattoos called Youbori.
Wabori tattoos are inspired by Buddhism and Shintoism, and most Wabori tattoos have motifs of legendary Buddhist and Shinto creatures, or Japanese flowers such as cherry blossoms.
Influenced by Buddhism, Buddhist monks in the Edo period tattooed themselves with Buddhist teachings as a sign of their loyalty to the Buddha. This type of tattoo is also considered an antidote to danger and evil spirits.
The tattoo culture in Japan was adopted in the Ryukyu kingdom located on the island of Okinawa. A tattoo called ‘Hajichi’ is inscribed on the back of the hands of women who live in the Ryukyu kingdom to protect them from danger.
Besides the Ryukyu kingdom, the Ainu tribe, which is a Japanese aboriginal tribe from Hokkaido, also has a tattoo culture. One of the traditional Ainu rituals involves tattooing the mouths and hands of Ainu women with black ink- a ritual practiced even today.
Why Tattoos Have a Bad Impression in Japan?
There are several reasons why Japanese people have a bad impression of tattoos.
In the Edo period, tattoos were used to signify an inmate, with benefits to distinguish them from ordinary people. Each region had a different way of tattooing inmates, but mostly the tattoo was painted on the forehead or arms of prisoners.
In addition to prisoners, prostitutes in the Edo period, called ‘Yujo’ tattooed themselves with the name of their regular customer as a sign of their loyalty. This tattoo is referred to as ‘Irezumiko’, which starts with the customer’s name and ends with the kanji character 命 (inochi), which means life, so this tattoo means “I give my life to ‘name’.”
Tattoos are also used by members of the Yakuza (Japanese gang members) to prove their loyalty to their organization. Usually a Yakuza’s body is covered by a large Wabori tattoo, and tattoos are not only a symbol of their loyalty to the organization, but tattoos also show their sacrifice for the organization.
Japanese Society’s View on Tattoos
Even though tattoos are a part of Japanese culture, Japanese people’s views on tattoos are generally not very good.
After the Edo period, the view of the Japanese people towards tattoos changed for the worse because only prisoners, prostitutes, and members of the Yakuza organization had tattoos in Japan.
This is the reason why many public facilities in Japan prohibit visitors with tattoos.
Facilities that Forbid Tattoos
In Japan, there are many public facilities that prohibit visitors who have tattoos.
These public facilities are hot springs, public swimming pools, sports centers and public beaches.
Tattooed visitors are prohibited from entering because they are considered to be a nuisance or as disturbing other visitors.
Are Tattoos Illegal in Japan?
Having a tattoo on your body is actually not illegal, but tattooed people have limitations when on vacation or living in Japan.
You cannot enjoy a bath in a hot spring if you have a tattoo, because most hot springs in Japan prohibit tattooed visitors from entering. If you have a tattoo, please look for hot springs that explicitly allow those with tattoos to enter!
If you live in Japan, by having a tattoo your chance to get a good job also reduces.
One more thing you need to know, in Japan, only doctors and tattoo licensed artists can tattoo your body!