Chinese tattoo - will it be a problem in Tokyo & Hong Kong?
August 8, 2010 4:42 PM   Subscribe

I have 2 chinese characters tattooed onto my left arm. I'm travelling to Tokyo and Hong Kong next year. It will be winter so probably a non-issue, but what would the reaction be if I were to show it? What about public onsen in Japan? Would it cause any problems?
posted by anonymous to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
At the onsen it may be an issue, but elsewhere in Japan it's no biggie.
posted by Kirk Grim at 4:49 PM on August 8, 2010

Well, what does it say? Does it say something like "love" or "strength" (or is it nonsense like most Chinese character tattoos given in the US)? Unless it says "fuck you, chinks," I think you'll probably be fine. It's common enough I don't think there will be much resulting culture shock.
posted by phunniemee at 4:49 PM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

In Japan, there are many swimming pools and onsens that explicitly forbid people with tattoos to enter. (And the signs are in English). But if there is some place that you really want to get into, usually a couple well-placed band-aids should do the trick. As far as showing your tattoos in public, there is no law against that, and these days there are more and more young people sporting tattoos.

For curiosity's sake, I'd like to know which characters you have, but since this is an anonymous question, I guess we'll never know.

Although I've been to Hong Kong a few times, I don't remember anything standing out as to the acceptability of tattoos. I get the feeling they are more receptive there.
posted by greasepig at 4:52 PM on August 8, 2010

In most places, it likely won't be an issue, unless of course it doesn't mean what you think it does and results in inadvertent hilarity. You don't mention your racial background at all, but if you are visibly non-Asian/non-local, the tattoos will likely be even less of an issue. No one will care, just don't expect most people to "get" it. That said, as greasepig already mentioned, many onsen and public pools do have a firm policy forbidding tattoos, and it's really not worth testing unless you don't mind the prospect of being politely ejected while mostly or fully naked.
posted by Diagonalize at 5:47 PM on August 8, 2010

Tattoos in public in Japan are not a big deal. However, as others have said, you will generally be asked to leave if you enter an onsen or sento (public bath) due to the perceived organized crime connection. (Rather ridiculous, if you ask me, but that's Japan for you...)
posted by armage at 5:59 PM on August 8, 2010

(Rather ridiculous, if you ask me, but that's Japan for you...)

OTOH I have heard that the yakuza sport rather a lot of tattoos.
posted by I_pity_the_fool at 6:56 PM on August 8, 2010

I have tattoos, have lived in Japan for 13 years, and have never been asked to leave an onsen because of them (even though they all say "no tattoos").

Basically, it just applies to yakuza. Some overzealous onsen-worker might ask you to leave, but it's never happened to me, so the chances are pretty rare. Assuming, that is, you look relatively innocuous otherwise. Body piercings? Dreadlocks? Other things most Japanese will associate with lawless hoodlums? You might be in trouble.
posted by zachawry at 8:00 PM on August 8, 2010

A friend who has a small tattoo on her shoulder said that when she got on the massage table the attendant became very vocal and refused to let her even stay, much less get a massage. She was told it was a rule because of the association of tattoos with the yakuza. This was a couple of years ago.
posted by Anitanola at 8:19 PM on August 8, 2010

Yeah, I have a tattoo and when I lived in Japan, I never had a problem at an onsen. That being said, I was very conscious about it, and tried to keep my back against the wall so that others couldn't see it. (It's not a kanji, just a symbol of no meaning to anyone but me, so there's that, too.) I lived with a host family who took me to onsen frequently, and they always laughed at my concern that I might not be allowed in.

However, the truth is, if you go to an onsen, the rules do say you're not allowed in if you have tattoos, so you're kind of taking your chances. So be aware of that, and respectful of it in case it might become an issue. But, this rule is mostly geared toward actual Japanese people, and specifically toward the Yakuza, who have full body, colorful tattoos that are basically gang-affiliation marks. So, you're less likely to get any flack, besides some looks from people who are surprised you (a foreigner) are in the onsen in the first place.

Take it with a grain of salt, but it probably won't be a big deal. If you're concerned, you could maybe put a band-aid over it if it's small enough.
posted by diocletian at 10:54 PM on August 8, 2010

if you think it is going to be a problem put a bandaid on it. that's what Japanese people do. Don't give them a reason to kick you out.
posted by Infernarl at 1:18 AM on August 9, 2010

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