Info about Tattoo Culture?
November 12, 2011 1:31 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to be getting a tattoo or two within the next few months. However, I'm also going to Japan at some point next year to live there for 2+ years. What all should I know?

I've done -some- research, and know that tattoos are prohibited in bath houses, gyms, and possibly beaches soon. Is there anywhere else wherein I'll be prohibited from going?
Would it be better for me to wear long-sleeved shirts in public, even though I love wearing tank tops in the summer? What should I expect if I don't hide them in hot weather?

Thank you for any information or tips.
posted by DisreputableDog to Society & Culture (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Don't get it if you can wait. Tiny little ones are coverable with a bandage (and that's fine in public baths), but it will make your life one huge annoyance. You will need to cover it all of the time. I don't know what your intentions are in Japan, but it may be hard to do things like rent a home or take out a loan if somebody sees it. You probably will have a really hard time joining a gym, too. I think things have changed a little, but not enough that it's 100% cool.
posted by 200burritos at 2:04 PM on November 12, 2011

Not to thread sit, but some additional info:
I'll be living on a Navy base. I'll have at least one gym available to me whenever I want it.

The only thing I care about is when I go off base, as to whether it matters enough for me to hide my tattoos.
posted by DisreputableDog at 2:12 PM on November 12, 2011

The neat thing about tattoos is that you can always get one later.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:33 PM on November 12, 2011 [6 favorites]

Most water parks and Disney Japan have no tattoo policies. Lots of spas and resorts will prohibit them or require that they be covered. While things are changing the general attitude toward tattoos in Japan is that they're reserved for thugs and gangsters. It might interfere with your ability to interact with the Japanese population as they might make assumptions about your character based on your tattoos. This can be especially problematic in Japan which has a history of difficult relations with the US military.

Also, as an aside - make sure you're following current Navy policy on tattoos (NAVADMIN 110/06 is the most recent I'm aware of but check with your admin dept just in case). And be aware that if you have aspirations toward any officer programs, the screening form specifically asks about body art and answering yes triggers additional requirements.
posted by macfly at 2:33 PM on November 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

Tattoos in Japan are generally linked with the Yakuza, and most people avoid contact or getting close to anyone with tattoos. General society in Japan is still very conservative about tattoos, so expect different treatment if you publicly show them. People may not sit next to you on the subway, people may not go out of their way to help you, etc. However there are those that will simply not care or ignore it especially if you look like a non-Asian foreigner.

If you are Asian looking it's much easier for them to assume you as having ties to Yakuza, while if you definitely looked foreign they'll much more likely to just assume you are just a foreigner with a tattoo.

I knew someone that had half sleeve tattoos that lived and worked in Japan, and in even a rural area. He generally covered them, but many he knew and worked with knew about it. But he was a really friendly large white guy, so his personality and obvious non-Yakuza ties didn't make anyone concerned. But at the same time he never used public hot springs (onsen), gyms, etc.
posted by xtine at 2:46 PM on November 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

How about a henna tattoo to fulfill the desire temporarily until after Japan? Free-hand mehndi (not those seaside resort type "temporary tattoos") is intricate and gorgeous body art that lasts a few weeks. If you have a North African or Indian community near you, you should be able to find some amazing artists.
posted by Morrigan at 3:13 PM on November 12, 2011

you can always use dermablend.
posted by nadawi at 5:04 PM on November 12, 2011

The OP is female if that matters.
posted by k8t at 5:19 PM on November 12, 2011

I've been to Yokosuka for jobs a few times. You won't have any trouble at all if you like to stick to the stereotypical drunken sailor kind of things. Hang out in the honch, drink, chase massagie girls, go to roppongi to get drunk, etc. You won't have to hide your tattoos in Yoko, if that's where you're going.

On the other hand, if you don't keep your ink covered, that's what people are going to think of you if you venture out to do normal-people things in other areas.

So, you know, it's not so much what you can and cannot do. You can always find somewhere else to go if the no-tattoos thing gets in your way. (Although, having to check that out when you make plans is kind of a nuisance.) It's just whether or not you want people to think you're a drunken sailor or gangster all the time.
posted by ctmf at 8:53 PM on November 12, 2011

Lol. Buy lots of light-weight long-sleeved shirts. Got it. *Grin* Thanks everyone!
posted by DisreputableDog at 9:29 PM on November 12, 2011

i am a female with very large visible tattoos on my forearms (i have others not visible). i can't speak to places that ban tattoos bc i didn't go to them but when my mother and i visited japan a few years ago, people definitely stared at me in public when i had my sleeves pushed up.
posted by violetk at 10:01 PM on November 12, 2011

I moved to Japan earlier this year. I'm caucasian. During the summer, I walked around, rode the subway, ate in restaurants, bought things in stores, etc. etc. with a big fucking tattoo on my left forearm and another reasonably big one on my right upper arm. I still show them off without thinking when I am inside in a warm place and pull off whatever long-sleeved shirt I'm wearing or whatever. No one ever, ever gives a shit. The only place I take care to hide my tattoos is at work, 'cause I've never showed them to my colleagues and don't know when I'll let that revelation slip out...maybe after I've been there for a year or so and proven my value.

I've been to an onsen once and didn't have any problems. I have a friend with sleeves who has lived here for years and he LOVES onsen and he's never had a problem 'cause, according to him, he doesn't act like a drunk asshole and mostly the "no drinking and tattoos" signs are just something to point to if you act like a drunk asshole; YMMV.

I don't go to gyms either, so I can't help you there, but sounds like that's moot anyways. All in all, you'll be fine, don't sweat it. You're a foreigner so you have bigger fish to fry, so to speak.

And, you know what makes a huge difference? Start talking in extremely polite Japanese to people--even a little--and they'll forget immediately about your tattoos 'cause other more basic cultural conditioning will kick in. If you can't do that, hang out with another person who can. Or, just don't worry about it. Be nice and friendly and patient however you communicate and that'll counter a lot of problems you may have. Japanese folks are not going to not serve you or deal with you normally, in the vast majority of situations, and the folks who won't have other issues--it's probably not about your tattoos. In my experience, Japanese people are really nice as long as you are nice to them.
posted by dubitable at 5:06 AM on November 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't worry about the tattoo too much, although having them is definitely going to make people uncomfortable, because, as other people have said, tattoos are linked with organized crime. Organized crime is generally much for pervasive in Japan than in the United States - many, many people, especially shop-owners have had run-ins with the yakuza in one way or another, and the yakuza, to put it simply, equal violence and hurt.

Anyway, I don't think anyone is going to ban you from visiting a public bath, but, on the other hand, you are going to have to be on your best behaviour - the tattoo may annoy people, which means they are less likely to tolerate social faux pas that newby foreigners often make in Japan.

As for walking around with a tank top, most women above the age of 20 do not.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:38 PM on November 13, 2011

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