During my Stained Glass workshop coffee break, the conversation topic was tattoo, which my three fellow students, all in their middle age, sported. I listened to their description and reasons of each tattoo, and rightly guessed the age of the lady with the monkey on her arm. They didn’t ask me, but I don’t have a tattoo. Why? Because I would like to enter public bathing facilities in Japan.
Traditionally having a tattoo was the sign of belonging to Yakuza, an organized criminal organization. Hence public bathhouses refused to allow tattooed people. And today? It is actually illegal to decline their entry, because it is a right to use public bathhouses or swimming pools for your health and hygiene. (The law is a bit outdated now that just about every household has a bath, but it is still alive.) Private bathhouses, including large ‘resort’ spa complex, still retain the right to say No according to their policy.
What do general public think of tattooed people entering the bathhouse? I checked some Japanese websites. Some think it is OK, others think not, feeling they are intimidated. In 2013 a Maori woman was denied entry to a Japanese bathhouse. In response to her protest that it was insensitive to the cultural heritage, some commented on the insensitivity on her side, saying “Do as the Romans do.”
I haven’t been able to find a Kiwi or any other foreigner with a tattoo entering or failing to enter a Japanese bathhouse. My husband doesn’t have a tattoo, but it would be interesting to have him sport a printed one on his body and send him to a bathhouse to see what happens.