Having a tattoo

In Japan, having a tattoo isn’t great. Tattoos or Irezumi have many negative connotations for Japanese people.

In swimming pools and some gyms, people who have tattoos will be asked to cover them up with band-aids or a piece of clothing. In swimming pools, the staff would offer you a rash guard or long swim trunks. In gyms you would be offered long sleeved shirts or jumpers.

Tattoos are commonly associated to yakuza or gang members here in Japan and especially in places like Kanagawa. And when foreigners have tattoos people tend to be even more cautious and aware of their presence. I personally have never been taught or told that tattoos are bad. And many of my friends don’t think of tattoos in a bad light. Maybe its because some of our high school teachers have small tattoos or because some of the tv shows we used to watch had characters with tattoos. In Japanese detective television shows, criminals have tattoos and sometimes those tattoos are then the clue into discovering a new gang or the tattoo is used to uncover clues into past cases. Tattoos just never have been shown in a good or fair way in media here.

On television, if the person has a tattoo they will be asked to cover it somehow. With make up or clothes therefore you will not really come across tattoos on television. The only time you would see tattoos are in public.

In public many people stare at tattoos. They stare for a long time. I see this often in trains or in shopping malls.  And I have seen children ask their parents what they are and the few parents Ive heard said they’re are little drawings bad people have on their body. Which isn’t the most fair description/impression to give to a child.

I personally have nothing against tattoos. I wont get one because I am too indecisive and it looks painful.

What do you think about tattoos? Do you think they should be covered up?

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5 thoughts on “Having a tattoo

  1. What is weird is that we were once asked to leave a sento in Tokyo because of my friend’s small tattoo and a week later I stared at a Japanese woman with a beautiful and full body tattoo in the sento next to me in Kyoto. Why? Am I bathing in a yakuza haunt? Or are some sentos more relaxed?

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    1. It really depends on the area or the person running it. Sometimes other sento goers may feel some kind of discomfort if they see someone with a tattoo, or the person running the place may just want to be super cautious. Kyoto isn’t necessarily full of yakuza but some areas near Kyoto are.
      In some areas like Kyoto, where there are lots of tourists, a lot of places have strict rules so locals wouldn’t feel too intimidated. In Tokyo, sentos may not be too strict about visitors with tattoos because it is their body and they understand foreigners having tattoos doesn’t mean they are some how bad people. And Tokyo isn’t full of Yakuza either.
      I hope this answers your question 🙂

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      1. Kind of I guess the more I learn about Japan the more I see that what my teachers told me is not an absolute rule. The onsen in sakaiminato had a rule against tattoo even fake ones ^^ though I can understand that they might fade in the bath.

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      2. But then tattoos were meant to set people apart from society and now people want it to be mainstream isn’t it contradictory ? I like tattoos but I can understand that some might find them offensive like tattoos of Buddha that some foreigners get lightly…

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      3. Some foreigners do get odd kanji or drawings of samurais and Buddhas like you mentioned and that could be a reason for this ban in Japan. But tattoos never really caught on in Japan unlike western countries where getting a tattoo is a form of self expression and symbolic for people.But iIn Japan it is only seen as a label or a sign to other people that they should stay away. They just aren’t shown to the majority as something positive.

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