Omotenashi ends with your tattoo

Written by: Sven Kilian on December 9, 2013 at 11:05 am | In CULTURE, LIFESTYLE | 1 Comment

Omotenashi means “hospitality” and that is what we know and love Japan for. But, of course, this is not where the dreams of a tolerant and friendly society end. If you have ever visited or lived in Japan and you proudly have a tattoo you might well have experienced discrimination you have never even thought of. Fitness centers, public bath houses, swimming pools and even parts of public beaches are increasingly refusing access to people who have a tattoo.

tattoo discrimination in japan

While years ago this illegal “rule” was just limited in some way to family spa lands and some more private clubs, it has now spread into public areas, and even international hotels such as the Ritz Carlton in Tokyo are refusing access to their spa facilities unless you are wearing a full-cover body suit to cover your tattoos. Asked for the reason, the official statement of a Ritz Carlton Executive in Tokyo was: “It is a Japanese custom and we respect it”.

I see. As a German I cannot help remembering the history lessons we had to endure over and over again at school. For so many years we barely learned anything else than about our terrible Nazi history not so long ago. We saw Jewish people getting refused access at first, later to be branded with first stars on their cloth and then tattooed numbers. We saw pictures of them walking and living separately from us “Aryan” Germans. Of course it did not end with the Jewish people. Basically anybody that could possible harm the society (which one?). And it was a lot. In the end we killed 6 million people and we could have surely killed more if we had not run out of cash that we stole from the people we killed and put into camps.

Anyway, when I went to stay in South Africa for a year at the age of 17, Apartheid was still in bloom, also we could think it was the final bloom. Nevertheless, i saw people separated by skin colour when they entered buses or went to toilets. In good establishments you would barely see a “kaffir” (black person) except as a waiter. It was quite an experience to be thrown back into history and just a few years later experience the fall of apartheid. Nelson Mandela died a couple of days ago. Thank you for what you did!

Japan, I love you! But what are you doing? Have you not learned your history lessons? Do you really want to go down that road?

We could argue that tattoo is a symbol of the Yakuza, the Japanese Mafia, which had its high time back in the 1980′s. People are scared of them and the tattoos make them feel uneasy during relaxing time at the spa or in the gym. People fear for their kids, so they have a special space where people with tattoos are not allowed.

tattoo refusal japan

Ok, just the fact is that there are barely any incidents where “normal” (non-Yakuza) people are involved. Yakuza incidents are usually limited to within their groups and even the definition of Yakuza is very fuzzy. Many of the Yakuza do not have tattoos and some could pass as a normal salaryman or bank manager from their appearance.

In any way, a tattoo is hardly a way of recognising a “bad person” (悪い人). And even if that person might be a “bad person”, it does not mean that he (or she, in fact… the rule applies also to the ladies) will in any way interrupt the business or annoy the other guests.

Japan, this is discrimination and I would like you to stop it. Also, by the way, it’s against the law. Please consult your lawyer.

It might be hard for you to think that you can just change a rule like that overnight. Ok, take your time but start today. You have six more years to go before the whole world will be looking at you. When world-famous athletes and millions of foreign guests will flock to Japan. To experience the Olympics but also a country that is admired in the West for its hospitality and kindness.

Foreign media will report about every little corner and cultural aspects and you can be sure that refusing entry to foreign visitors to onsen (hot springs), one of Japan’s most valuable tourist assets, is not going to stand good in the light of an open, global society.

Thank you so much for your consideration!


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  1. Yeah, I totally agree. Spot on with your prediction. They need to sort this out or 2020 is going to be a disaster.

    It’s worse in Hokkaido. Some onsen don’t even let foreigners in at all, regardless of the tattoo issue!

    Comment by David — December 11, 2013 #

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