Japan has a long, varied history with tattoos. It’s complex…, but some of that history is connected to punitive tattoos, meted out to brand and punish people for indiscretions… Ideas of filial piety continue to exist in modern Japan, which is why, even today, some people will say that they think getting their bodies inked is disrespectful to their parents who have bestowed said body.
As more and more tattooed Western tourists flock to Japan, the country is now being forced to reckon with its disdain for tattoos but continue its embrace of Western tourists.
What’s the big deal? Just keep your tats covered, right?
Well, that works, unless your travel plans call for a trip to a Japanese onsen, or clothing-free hot springs. Over half of Japan’s hot springs ban tattooed visitors, yet fully one-third of Western tourists name visiting an onsen as a primary reason for traveling Japan.
The Japan Tourism Agency is currently working with the country’s biggest hot springs to try and pave the way for tattooed visitors. The last thing the JTA wants is for Japan to earn a reputation for discrimination. Yet, even as this campaign gets underway, there’s a court case in the works challenging the legality of tattooing in Japan.
Keep your eye on Japan to see how this resolves. Until then though, if you’re a tattooed Westerner, best avoid Japan’s onsen.