Find a Tattoo-friendly Onsen In & Around Nagano
For international visitors, rules regarding tattoos and onsen can be confusing. Whether you can enter an onsen when sporting some ink is a tricky question to answer. In order to answer it in a useful way, a little background to why tattoos are an issue is worth considering.
In the past and for many years, tattoos were used to brand criminals in Japan. The patterns and symbols used would reflect the nature and place of the crime and therefore, in the eyes of law-abiding citizens, tattoos identified criminal and dangerous individuals. From the late-18th century onward, criminals embraced this practice as their own and began to use elaborate decorative patterns as a mark of pride. As a result, the practice of tattooing was outlawed in Japan and only practiced by the criminal underground, most notoriously, the yakuza (Japanese mafia).
In a society based on conformity, displaying a tattoo is a strong statement against what is considered good and proper behaviour. Though social attitudes are beginning to change, with an increasing number of young Japanese having tattoos and many foreigners heavily inked, in the eyes of many Japanese tattoos maintain a negative stigma.
This is most pronounced with the older generation who feel uncomfortable at the sight of a tattoo – and this is what matters to onsen owners. While an owner may be comfortable admitting guests with tattoos – recent surveys reflect an increasing number of whom are happy to do so – many are thinking of the comfort of their older guests when refusing entry to guests with tattoos. They worry they their guests, particularly their elderly regulars, will be uncomfortable therefore they decline entry to anyone with a tattoo.
I have a tattoo, so what can I do?
The positive news is that there are plenty of onsens you can enter! The bad news is they can be hard to identify without just showing-up and trying your luck. The best advice is to check first, by phone or in person, before trying to enter bath.
A phone call – best made in Japanese – to enquire first is the best option. Failing that, you can ask at the onsen reception. Some will clearly advertise a ban on tattoos while others assume it is simply known, so even if there is no sign refusing entry, always ask first to avoid an awkward interaction later on.
Another option is to cover your tattoos. While smaller tattoos may go unnoticed or ignored (if they are indeed small), larger ones will not. For small and mid-sized tattoos, it’s best to cover them with bandages, available for sale in pharmacies and some convenience stores.
Sleeves, leg, back and other large tattoos that are impossible to cover are the biggest problem. If you are heavily inked you will need to check with the owner before entering. If they decline entry, don’t take it personally. It’s a cultural norm and no offence is intended. Rest assured you will find plenty that will let you in.
Tattoo-friendly onsens in Nagano
Don’t give up looking for tattoo-friendly onsen in Nagano. There are plenty of them and more and more each year! Hotel Senjukaku in Kanbayashi Onsen (pictured below) allows guests with tattoos to use their onsen along with private onsens and rooms including their own hot spring. Guests looking for a day onsen can try Uruoikan in Nagano City. Guests with tattoos cannot use their public baths but can book a 1 hour private onsen. With the door safely locked behind, you’ll be free to relax and unwind.
Book away and enjoy – it’s all yours!