Japanese spas urged to relax tattoo rules for tourists

Three Japanese men show off their back tattoos Image copyright AFP
Image caption Tattoos are often associated with Japan's yakuza crime syndicates but some are purely fashion statements

Japan's official tourism agency wants spas to stop barring tattooed foreign visitors from using bathing facilities.

Attitudes toward tattoos are often negative in Japan, where they're associated with members of the yakuza organised crime syndicates. Many spas refuse access to visitors who have tattoos because they're worried about the reaction of other customers.

But now the Japan Tourism Agency is asking operators to relax their rules, pointing out that there are major cultural differences between how tattoos are viewed at home and abroad. The country is experiencing a tourism boom, and agency official Shogo Akamichi tells The Japan Times that visitors should be free to enjoy the country's spas, known as onsen.

The organisation's non-binding suggestions include offering visitors stickers to cover up their inkings, or setting aside specific times of day when tattooed bathers can use the facilities. The paper points out that the agency isn't seeking a rule change for tattooed Japanese spa-goers - only foreign visitors.

A survey conducted last year found that 56% of hotels and inns did not allow tattooed guests to use communal bathing facilities. In 2013, a spa in northern Japan made headlines after barring entry to a Maori woman because of her traditional face tattoos.

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