Destination Japan

New website helps travelers find tattoo-friendly hot springs in Japan

Maggie Hiufu Wong, CNNPublished 11th June 2018
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(CNN) — "Can I go in an onsen if I have a tattoo?"
It's a question that's crossed the mind of every inked-up person wanting to travel to one of the famous hot spring facilities in Japan.
To help travelers navigate the country's tricky policies on skin art, the team behind Tattoo-Friendly, a new English and Japanese website, called up hundreds of properties to find out where they stand.

Tattoos long stigmatized

Tattoos, once commonly associated with the country's organized crime gangs (or the yakuza), have long been taboo in Japan, especially in communal onsen (hot springs), where guests are usually required to bathe nude. The ink ban can also extend to gyms and swimming pools.
The issue reared its head again last year when a court ruled that only medical professionals can legally issue ink, making tattoo artists technically illegal in Japan.
But attitudes are changing. In an interview with The Japan Times, Tattoo-Friendly administrator Miho Kawasaki, said tattoos are increasingly being recognized as a legitimate form of fashion.
And tourism on the rise, "many facilities have recently started to accept tattooed guests," says an explainer on the website.
In Ginzan Onsen, historic buildings overlook the pristine and calming Ginzan River, which flows through the center of the village.

A useful guide to tattoo-friendly baths

Travelers can use the website's map to find a tattoo-friendly property nearby.
Users can also narrow down the search by choosing the type of facility they want to visit -- gym, pool, hotel-and-ryokan (inn), onsen and sento (public baths).
Each listed property includes a brief description of the place and its amenities, as well its specific policies on tattoos.
For example, some facilities have unrestricted rules for tattooed guests while some only allow small tattoos. Others provide flesh-colored stickers for guests to place over their ink or offer private baths for tattooed guests.
There are now more than 500 tattoo-friendly properties on the list -- and it's still growing.
This is not the first time Japan has tried to ease the minds of tattooed foreign tourists. In 2016, the Japan Tourism Agency urged onsen operators to relax the rules restricting guests with body art.
It's issued an official guidance to explain to bath owners that there are often religious, cultural, aesthetic or other reasons behind the body modification practice.