Japanese tattoos in Tokyo

Due to Japan’s rather old-fashioned approach to tattoos, this man won’t be able to spend some time in a spa, or even pop down to his local swimming pool. Thankfully he can, however, still stand and posture with them in the park.

traditional Japanese tattoos


    • says

      Nah, he’s not yakuza, just a bloke with tattoos.

      I asked to take a picture of his back. He agreed. Took a few shots and we shook hands after. Nice man.

  1. Volyund says

    They are not allowed in public baths and pools, so that they don’t intimidate non-yakuza citizens… and cause problems for the establishments.

    • says

      Yeah, that’s totally understandable too. The trouble is the ban stretches to all tattoos, affecting a growing majority, because of a very small minority. I do accept though that it could be tricky to ban only certain types of tattoos.

        • says

          Yes, it’s the same for everyone. There are usually signs or posters, so it’s always pretty obvious if tattoos are not allowed, and I think it’s fair to say that generally they aren’t.

  2. Nora says

    This is news! Though the countless hours I spent watching Jdorama told me full bodied tattoo usually are Yakuza (I would have assumed the same for this man should you not clarified it, :D). But didn’t know they (people with tattoos) are not allowed in such areas.

    Here there’s a muslim women gym (or all women gym), any chance there’s a tattoo friendly spa/bath in Japan?

      • says

        Yeah, he has a full back tattoo, but not the (almost) complete covering associated with the yakuza.

        I dare say there are places that don’t mind. Or at least more tolerant. But the majority aren’t.

    • says

      Often there are signs in English too. No doubt because there were such problems in the past. Or at the very least they want to avoid any in the future.

  3. says

    Great shot, I like the way you used the DOF to make this shot work.
    As for tattoos, tourists and public baths and onsen, usually it is mentioned in tourists guides and it is one of the questions that pops up most often on the Japan-Guide question forum to which I occasionally contribute. Even though I don’t like the ban for precisely the reasons Lee mentioned, I ask people to respect them as I would hate to see a blanket ban for non Japanese introduced: I do love my onsen, the more remote, the better :-)

    • says

      Thanks a lot. Very kind of you to say so.

      Yes, it’s a tricky one, but I totally agree. Such customs/rules have to be respected, even if they do seem somewhat outdated. As for onsen though, I’ve personally never had a problem. There simply doesn’t seem to be the same aversion to tattoos.

      • says

        I was almost refused access in Tawarayama Onsen with the excuse that I could not understand any emergency evacuation announcements if an earthquake struck, or so. My wife managed to convince that I did understand enough Japanese to manage and they let me in, felt a bit like a case of めんどくさい, but I had a great time inside chatting away with some kind people form Kyushu.

        • says

          That’s a shame there was such a hassle, but glad to hear it was all sorted in the end. A concession that hopefully helped the next person who turned up sporting a tattoo as well.

  4. winnie says

    Nice Picture!
    The tattoo of kannon is beautifully drawn. His tattoo artist must be good! :)
    In my home country, tattoo is popular among ladies too!!
    I thought of before but I could not find a nice art piece which I really love it.

    • says


      It’s the same in Britain too. Lots of women have tattoos. In fact when I go home, I’m amazed by how many people now have them.

  5. says

    I’ve seen him with the rockabilly guys several times over the years. Last time in 2010. And he’s always been friendly to those who say hello :)

    • says

      Yeah, he seemed like a thoroughly nice bloke. Very polite, and more than accommodating when it came to me taking a photo.

  6. says

    There is a bit of a ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ when it comes to tattoos in many places in Japan. I have a traditional Japanese sleeve done by one of the masters and it has only been a problem in a couple of places. Sure, you have to wear a rash guard at the local pool, but that is not really a big problem. I have found that if you ask about tattoos before you go in they will say no way, but if you just go in there is not really an issue, especially when you are a foreigner.
    Not everyone who has a tattoo in Japan is a yakuza, and it is slowly becoming more common to see people wearing them more openly.

    • says

      That’s certainly been my experience at onsens. And at one spa they actually covered the offending artwork for me. On the other hand in places where I’ve seen a sign and asked, it has always been a resounding ‘no’.

      Totally agree about their increased popularity. A change that will hopefully result in a change of attitudes too.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *