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Asia Minute: Japanese Government Calls for Easing Restrictions on Tattooed Tourists

Bradley Eldridge / Flickr
Bradley Eldridge / Flickr

Tourism is a growth industry in Japan. The government wants to increase foreign visitors as the Tokyo Olympic Games approach in the year 2020.  And this week officials put out a special request for help in that goal. HPR’s Bill Dorman has details in today’s Asia Minute.

Japan’s government would like operators of hot springs to loosen up when it comes to tattoos.  The highlight of many a trip to Japan is a visit to one of the natural hot springs that dot the country.  Spas and inns are often set up around the hot springs….but a soothing soak has generally been off-limits to any tatted traveler.  Last year a survey by the Japan Tourism Agency found that less than a third of inn keepers would allow someone with a tattoo to get into a public bath. 

Traditionally, tattoos in Japan are associated with organized crime—the Yakuza.  But the government says times have changed.  The Asahi Shimbun says the tourism agency “plans to promote awareness in the tourism industry that tattoos are linked to fashion and religion among foreign visitors and not specifically associated with gangs and rebellion.”

The government stresses that this is merely a request—a suggestion--not a binding rule.  And it suggests that spa operators offer patches that could cover tattoos—or set aside certain times for tattooed tourists to use the facilities.  Plus there’s no suggestion that this adjustment would apply to the locals….because as the Japan Times puts it—those body markings could “scare other customers.”

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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