One of the best things about winter in Japanthe onsen. Coming from England, which is lacking in (or any exciting ), Japan was my first introduction to the experience of bathing in a hot spring.
The first time I went to an onsen was in Yamanashi, with a Japanese family that I taught English to. I was nervous, like most foreign first-timers, about getting naked in front of. But I was even more nervous about making some . What if I got in the bath the wrong way? Or used the wrong soap? Or stared too much at other people’s ?!
Luckily, I had nothing to worry about. Once I stepped through the sliding doors into theit was like all my troubles had turned to . All I had to do was watch how other people acted and relax along with them. Ten minutes in the waters and .
Since then I’ve visited onsen all over, from aroten-buro in Hokkaido to a wine onsen in Hakone. They’ve all been equally brilliant, and I always recommend onsen to people back home as a top cultural experience to have in Japan.
However, recently I had an incident happen to me thatthat view.
I was actually asked to leave an onsen in the middle of bathing. (Note: I was completely.) Why? Because I have a tattoo, and they had a “no tattoos” policy. When I asked the staff why, they simply said: “It’s the rules.”
Tattoos remaintaboo in Japan. Traditionally associated with criminal punishment, tattoos became a symbol of illegality, most by the yakuza. Even for me and my friends, if we see a Japanese guy with lots of tattoos we immediately each other and agree that he must be from the mafia.
On the other hand, not everyone with a tattoo is a gangster. It’s surely clear that most foreign visitors with tattoos, especially women, aren’t in the yakuza.
While it might be difficult tofor some customers and not others, it can’t be denied that, in many cases, they just don’t . The number of visitors to Japan , and more Japanese are getting tattoos for fashion, so perhaps something needs to change.
The governmentin fact taking steps to the issue, like encouraging onsen owners to their guidelines. Hoshino Resorts recently adjusted its policy to allow small tattoos, as long as they .
It’s a small step but one that hopefullyan end to the tattoo taboo.
The Japan Times ST: February 24, 2017