Japan Culture,  Tokyo

TATTOOS IN JAPAN – Taboo or not?


To me, Japan has a love-hate relationship with tattoos although I think the growing international exposure is helping to normalize the issue. It’s a love relationship because many japanese hero-like characters have tattoos, take for example Gladio from FFXV. Hate relationship because they are still frowned upon by some if they see some ink in real life. Tattoo history in Japan is related to the Japanese mafia, and even if you’re obviously not Japanese or even asian, they can be considered offensive.

As you may know, I love tattoos and I have four myself. I don’t plan to stop getting ink done anytime soon, and I would love to get tattooed in Japan (soon enough).

In Japan, today you still are expected to cover your tattoos in onsen, some gyms and pools, and even at the beach if someone complains.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for when in Rome do the Romans and for that reason I only visit private onsens (God forbid my bunny tattoo offends anyone) BUT! This is what grinds my gears:

How can anything on my body offend your sight enough to force you to be proactive and shame it – instead of looking away and keep on with what you were doing?

I mean I could be offended by freckles for example (which I have at least a couple million) or I don’t know, small boobs (which I also have) and I wouldn’t in a lifetime think of a better way of dealing with it than ignoring it. Its not like you have to stare at my body, right?


And it really comes down to the onsen baths for me – in which you are naked and vulnerable and surrounded by other naked and vulnerable humans. Shouldn’t we all be nice and mind our own business, instead of being offended by other’s tattoos?

I’m glad that Japanese society is getting more tolerant with tattoos. Having conversations with Japanese people about it, I feel like discrimination is more and more a thing from the past and the new generations don’t care and/or embrace self expression through tattooing. 

I’m sure that soon we won’t have to google tattoo-friendly gyms, onsens and beaches anymore.

I really would like to hear your opinion on the matter! Have you ever had a uncomfortable situation because of your tattoos? Would you cover them up in Japan?

Thank you so much for reading! ???????? Talk to you soon!

9 Comments

  • Amanda

    I got my 1 and only tattoo in Shibuya at Studio Muscat. Highly recommend! I refuse to get any more tattoos unless I’m there!

  • Rheannon (:

    Do you usually cover up your tattoos when you’re just walking around the streets or is it usually only a problem in more private, vulnerable places like onsen? I’m just curious since most of your tattoos seem pretty easy to cover, but if you had full sleeves or tattoos all over your legs do you think people would feel more uncomfortable seeing those?

    I don’t have any tattoos, but plan on getting many in the future!

    • bunnytokyo

      Hi Rheanon! I do not cover my tattoos in any circumstance since I don’t really do swimming pools or public onsen! But if I went to those places I would cover them up for sure. Around the street I don’t think anyone stares or feels uncomfortable around tattooed foreigners, specially in Tokyo.

  • Art

    I’m pretty new to living in Japan (about 7 months now) and I have several tattoos. My first sento experience went pretty much as I expected. Luckily, I was able to finish but was asked not to come back. My father-in-law was with me (that’s a whole ‘nother story!) and he was very upset with how things were handled. He went on about how Japan needs to be more open minded with things, especially with the 2020 Olympics coming. I wish the stigma behind tattoos would go away, but that’s the price you pay (for now) having tats in Japan.

  • Aileen

    I honestly never knew they were this discriminatory about tattoos still! This is very interesting considering I have a big one on my wrist that’s about 1/3 of my forearm. I wonder how I’m gonna fare with hiding that during the warmer months when I visit….

  • Diana @ Opium Teahouse

    Both my boyfriend and I had issues with our tattoos in Japan. By issues I mean wanting to take a dip at Nagasaki’s public swimming pool, on a day that marked 39°C, and being confronted by a massive sign asking people to cover up the ink before entering. Even if we wanted, we have just too many to cover up.

    I do agree with you, as guests in someone else’s country it would be rude to blatantly disregard their code of conduct. However, I feel that their views on tattoos has much more to do with “it’s always been this way” than actually being considered offensive.

    Massive fan of your blog and IG account, by the way ☺️!

  • Shane

    The Yakuza has a massive presence in Japan and unfortunately tattoo’s are a sign of gang membership. That’s why it’s frowned upon. It has nothing to do with being offensive and etc it’s just a matter of liike, thats what it’s like in Japan, it’s been separated from the rest of the world for a while and thats the way it works. Like how cows are sacred in India. That’s how their life is.

    • bunnytokyo

      I agree with you mostly but I do have a different opinion on the Yakuza part- as far as I know Japanese people interact directly/are affected by tattooed non-Yakuza people than the mafia itself. I mean, every hairdressers has a tattooed stylist and that is totally fine ????. Not to mention the Yakuza tattoos are very particular and usually include specific themes and bodysuit-shapes. Also the Japanese society has been exposed to countless tattooed international idols, singers, football players, artists, etc and successfully embraced them. As for the “being offensive” part, I included it from a direct experience (my friend was told she “was dirty” even if she covered her tattoos, in a very rude manner by a hotel staff member); and an article I recently read about the possibility of the Government prohibiting the American soldiers from a base in Japan to go to the nearest beach because gnarly tattoos could be scary for the children.

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