Onsen Tips For Those With Tattoos

Vintage Tattooed Japanese Men

​I recently published an article entitled: A Luxury Spa Day At Arima Onsen (that won't break the bank).

Immediately after I was asked if I could provide some onsen tips for those with tattoos. So, here it is.

Vintage Tattooed Japanese Men. Onsen tips for those with tattoos


An email from Linda in New Zealand

One such response was via an email from Linda who lives in New Zealand. Linda is off to Japan for what sounds like a great trip next month and wanted some advice about using onsen for those with tattoos.

Here’s what Linda says:

"Hi we are travelling to Japan in a month with Intrepid on a food based tour, with extra time in Tokyo at the start and four extra days in Osaka at the end of the tour. As part of the tour we will be staying in a monastery for a night. And two nights in a ryokan in Sakyama. 

My concern query is I have heard that tattoos are not that accepted in Japan. I have several, two on my forearms, both are very tastefully done birds done in watercolour with quotes... but should I avoid the onsens, and keep my arms covered? Thanks so much Linda from NZ...(where tattoos are very much accepted and part of our culture)"

Linda is not the first to ask, so here’s what I think:


Tattoos and the Yakuza

Whilst tattoos in Japan are synonymous with the Yakuza (gangsters/mafia), the Japanese are unlikely to think that non-Japanese who have tattoos are members of the Yakuza!

That said, because of the association, if you have tattoos in Japan it can affect where you are welcome and what you can do.

This most often crops up at onsen where, since you have to get naked to partake, any tattoos are likely to be seen by other bathers – and here lies a risk that you might offend other Japanese bathers – which won’t go well with the owners of the establishment.

READ: How To Travel in Japan Without Speaking Japanese

But as foreigners, you will be given more leeway that if you are Japanese. Firstly, I would say, if you want to try an onsen during your trip and you have tattoos – absolutely try. Don’t presume it is a non-starter that you can use onsen (and I recommend you do!).


I recommend contacting onsen in advance

I recommend contacting the onsen in advance and explain that you have tattoos and, like Linda did above, how extensive they are, and ask if it is still possible to use the onsen facilities. Some may simply decline. That’s their choice.

Others, however, will take a different view and will accept you – with no more comment or question.


Onsen Etiquette Guide For Arima Grand Hotel. Onsen tips for those with tattoos

Some ways you can bathe with tattoos

Some may suggest bathing at certain times or days to avoid busy periods and lots of other guests. Some may suggest booking a private bathing room (if they have them) so that you can have privacy whilst others can bathe without ‘fear’ of seeing someone with tattoos!

Some onsen will welcome you but simply issue you with skin-coloured patches to stick on, covering up any potentially offending ink.

If you are using an onsen which is part of a ryokan (traditional inn) then there is probably less chance that others would see your tattoos – unless the ryokan is a very large modern one.

Some ryokan allow you to reserve the onsen for private bathing (often used by couples or families) – which can get around the issue as you won’t ever be sharing the pools with people you do not know.


How To Travel In Japan Without Speaking Japanese


How to travel in Japan without speaking Japanese ebook The Real Japan Rob Dyer

One of the major considerations with travelling in Japan is the inscrutable Japanese language.

A seemingly incomprehensible, often kaleidoscopic, barrage of cryptic symbols awaits the foreign traveller who doesn’t speak or read the language.

I’ve been exploring Japan since 2000 and I’ve picked up plenty of tips along the way.

I’ve distilled 19 years of my experience into this ebook for you.

This practical Guide and Workbook covers all the essential basics you need to ensure your first (or next) trip to Japan is as Amazing as you deserve it to be.

Preview what’s inside by CLICKING HERE.


Buy Now The Real Japan Rob Dyer


Is the Japanese tourism industry about to change its policy on tattoos?

As more and more foreigners visit Japan, and as the fashion for tattoos in some Western countries becomes ever more commonplace, and with the massive tourism drive the Japanese government is encouraging ahead of this year’s Rugby World Cup and next year’s 2020 Tokyo Olympics, this specific issue is cropping up repeatedly.

Recently, the Japan Tourism Agency has suggested to the tourism industry that it relaxes its policy on banning those with tattoos from their facilities. I think this encouragement will slowly change the policy at individual onsen, or hotel chains who will take a more welcoming view.

I also think the economic potential of the Rugby World Cup this year and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will help focus the minds of many smaller business, to be more accommodating of foreigners with tattoos.

READ MORE: Exploring Japan with the 2019 Rugby World Cup


30 tattoo-friendly onsen in Japan

The excellent Gaijinpot website has a nicely curated article that pulls together 30 tattoo-friendly onsen.

No matter what size your tattoo, all the onsen in this list will welcome you. It’s handily grouped by region, has photos of every establishment on the list, and also includes information on how to get to each location.

You can read the 30 Tattoo Friendly Onsen in Japan article HERE.


Most popular onsen tours

Do you have tattoos and what to share your experience of travelling in Japan and how you and your tattoos were received? Then please leave a comment below:

Related: A Luxury Spa Day At Arima Onsen (that won’t break the bank)

Related: The Best Way to Experience The Real Japan? Stay In A Ryokan

Do you have tattoos? Do you have any experiences or recommendations to share about using onsen in Japan? If so, why not share them by leaving a comment below.


Enjoyed this article? Please share this image:

Onsen Tips For Those With Tattoos The Real Japan Rob Dyer


Join a Growing Community of Travellers!

Sign up for my biweekly bulletin today, download your copy of my Guide to Amazing Adventures in Japan, receive access to my free Resource Library and Private Facebook Group.


Japan Rail Pass JR Pass The Real Japan Rob Dyer