As I wrote in a previous post, most Japanese swimming pools do not welcome people with tattoos. The other day I found an ad (above) that shows just how seriously this rule is taken.

The ad, part of a “Summer Leisure Guide” listings page in the current issue of Metro Guide, a free newspaper given out in the Tokyo subway system, promotes four different water parks in Saitama Prefecture, immediately north of Tokyo. The parks apparently consider their tattoo ban so important that they have made a notice of it as large as the map showing all of their locations, thus using up a big chunk of space that might have been used instead to describe the parks’ amenities, special features, or other selling points.

It is quite possible that they think a tattoo ban is a selling point.

It used to be that tattoo bans were explained on the grounds that Japanese people are frightened of tattoos, because tattoos were associated with yakuza gangsters. But the rule kept out a lot of other people — twentysomething blonde girls, for instance — who clearly were not yakuza. I haven’t heard the yakuza argument lately, but I have heard it said people with tattoos tend to be troublemakers. Even putting criminal connations aside, tattoos are generally viewed as low-class in Japan.

The water parks who placed this ad clearly are not aiming just at yakuza, since they went to the trouble of printing “Keep out tattoo!” in English (with no other information in that language) and the illustration makes it clear that even a lady who has a discreet little butterfly on her ankle can expect to be expelled.

It seems to me that the answer to this problem would be to expel anyone who actually causes trouble rather than to exclude all sorts of innocent people on purely aesthetic grounds.

I speak as someone who has no skin in this game. I have no tattoos. I have zero desire to get a tattoo. But I do have freinds and relatives with decorated skin, and I don’t hold that against them.

Moreover, and ironically, some of the most strikingly beautiful tattoo art I have ever seen is the gangsterish Japanese kind.

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4 Responses to “Tattoophobia”

  1. Locohama Says:

    Tattoo banning as a selling point..I think you might be right! I also agree that there are some great tats on some of the “gangsters” guys I’ve come across. Nice post!

  2. Dochimichi Says:

    I’ve heard the version also, that tattoos are percieved to be unhygienic – hence the ban, and general dislike in all pool/onsen type of places.


    At this point its totally a class issue. Tattoos in Japan have always been a symbol of being some kind of “outsider” – all the way back to the Edo era merchants who used them as a way to display their prosperity while getting around the caste-based dress code. They have always been ways of the “lower” classes or outsiders thumbing their noses at polite / mainstream society. Traditionally the west isn’t really so different, even though popularity and acceptance of tattoos has skyrocketed in the last 20 or so years.

    The solution? Either don’t get tattoos or don’t move to the burbs. Seems like untattooed people are in the minority in places like Koenji lately.

  4. Jim Says:

    By law public pools cannot bar you from entering or even make you cover up.

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