Hot springs and public pools in Japan have long denied people with tattoos. But now it’s 2015. The future! Are attitudes in Japan changing? Some are, but in one recent poll, the majority’s opinion has not.

According to Nico Nico News, two hundred Japanese people (100 men and 100 women) in their 20s and 30s were asked whether or not the restrictions against people with tattoos at hot springs should be loosened.

Out of those polled, 39.5 percent said it would be better if the restrictions were softened, while 60.5 percent answered that it would be better if these restrictions were not loosened. (Keep in mind, this is merely one poll.)

In Japan, young and old alike visit hot springs. Since you are bathing, you are, well, naked. And since the bathing is typically communal, others will be able to see any tattoos you might have. That might make some uncomfortable. (The workaround is getting a room with a private bath, not bathing with others, and making sure you have no visible tattoos when checking in.)

NicoNico News includes comments from those who were polled, some saying they did not find tattoos scary or that all kinds of people should be able to go to hot springs. People who were against the loosening of regulations pointed out that kids go to hot springs, so there was concern about how this would impact them, as well as the fear that more gangsters would be frequenting hot springs.

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Generally speaking, hot springs have signs and notices that state people with tattoos are not allowed (likewise, many swimming pools, water parks, and even sports clubs follow suit). There are several reasons for this, but the main one is that Japanese people think tattoos equal yakuza and yakuza equals scary.

Sometimes in Japan, there is a distinction between Western style tattoos, which people think are for fashion, and Japanese style ones, which are often unfairly seen as shorthand for gangsters. This distinction makes snap judgements about who gets what type of motifs done on their body.

This comes as Japan prepares itself for the 2020 Olympics—and possibly embarrassing international situations with either foreign athletes or visitors being denied entry at hot springs because of tattoos. Imagine the international news coverage if any Olympic athlete with a tattoo of the Olympic rings was turned away by a hot springs... This could really be a problem.

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Photo: Narongsak Nagadhana | Shutterstock

In the past few months, there have been reports of a Japanese hotel group’s plan to dispense 8cm by 10cm stickers to visitors with tattoos so that their permanent ink can be covered. The rub is that some people will have much more extensive work.

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Centuries before modern yakuza existed, criminals in Japan were branded with punitive tattoos. These were marks of shame so others could stay away. In the past and even today, there are concepts of filial piety at play with the notion among some being that you receive your body from your parents so defacing it is an affront to them.

Not everyone with tattoos in Japan, even full body suits, are gangsters. Some people are just into tattoos: They might have gotten inked with a Buddhist deity or a Shinto god for religious reasons, or just think tattoos are attractive. The country has a long and proud tattooing tradition. In Japan, even among many Japanese people, that tradition does not get the respect that it should. That’s a shame.

Top photo: naka-stockphoto | Shutterstock

To contact the author of this post, write to bashcraftATkotaku.com or find him on Twitter@Brian_Ashcraft.

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