‘been thinking about getting a new tattoo lately… just as if I did not have enough trouble here as it is with my less than significant piece of body-art (ok, not really troubles, merely occasionally annoyances)… nonetheless, I think I want a new one.
tattoos are oddly addictive.

I was thinking about it, when I read a fellow japanese blogger’s entry on the topic: Barcode tattoos. Too bad it’s now tied with some cheesy teenage TV show, it had some appeal. but I think I’d rather go in more artistic directions…

Anyway, I need some more time to think about it. We don’t want to go for short-lived long-regretted ideas: I’m not planning to get “F.u.c.k. B.u.s.h.” tattooed on my knuckles any day soon, tempting though it may be.

I think I want an Irezumi… I have seen some pretty awesome ones.

And by the way, when I said tattoos get you “troubles” in Japan, I am quite serious. And I don’t just mean dirty look by uptight people in the street and overall job discrimination: mine is safely hidden from any non-intimate observer and does not really interfere with my daily life. beside, ever since my blue hair days, I’m way used to little old ladies instinctively clutching to their purse a little harder when walking past me.
No, I’m talking about stupid but concrete little things, like public baths and swimming pools that will often refuse entrance to any tattoo-bearer.

Public baths access might not seem like a big deal, but in Japan, it is a big deal: people go there all the time, it’s both health, relaxation, community and entertainment all combined in one. It sucks to be excluded from one of the most typical Japanese cultural element for such a stupid reason.

Even more infuriating was to get kicked out of my gym when the management came to learn that… horror of horrors… I had a tattoo (how they came to know this, though, is an interesting question, as it definitely doesn’t show when I’m merely exercising).

Oh, and what’s the deal with these? well, the short story is that tattoo in Japan means Yakuza… and since Yakuzas apparently dream of taking over public baths and fitness clubs all over japan, barring tattoos is a good way of keeping them away.

Now, how could a pale ass like mine be, even indirectly, implied to be a yakuza remains a complete mystery, more of a stupid joke actually.

Filed under: Only in Japan


  1. so so so funny, although I actually haven’t gotten any comments from Japanese people about my tattoo. It’s on my lower back and shows sometimes if my pants are low, and of course at the bath. Noone has actually forbidden me to go into a bath – sometimes I think I get sidelong glances – but the tattoo is small and only black and white, so I think they assume, ok, not a yakuza – since yakuza tattoos are so much more beautiful.

  2. of course, I was exaggerating the public bath ban a bit, although it does happen in certain places (and it definitely did happen with my gym)… But at any rate, I’d dare hope that Japanese culture somehow catches up with itself one day, considering how tattoos are more than common among modern-day Japanese youth.
    Whether contemporary-style world-culture tattoos or classical irezumis, I have seen countless friends with body art here and they obviously do not belong to any organized crime, unless the yakuzas are now recruiting among 25 year-old female art students…
    But although they certainly experience the same occasional difficulties, I don’t think they care anywhere as much as I do, for the simple reason that they just do not have the same interest/curiosity toward elements of their culture that might appear somehow exotic to gaijins like me (such as public bath etc). Japanese youth (well, youth everywhere, actually) is all about sticking to cliques and communities that will not only accept but encourage a lot of behaviour strongly frowned upon by traditional Japanese society.

  3. I’m doing a little research for one of my classes…
    American youth often get Japanese or Chinese characters
    tattooed, do you see, or how often do you see Japanese youth
    getting American or English words tatooed on themselves if at all?

  4. Mmmn… good question…
    Well, I have never seen any English tattoo on a Japanese here. Though I’m sure it might exist. At any rate: none of the few friends with tattoos I know here.
    I think the main reason why there isn’t the same “foreign language = cool” effect as in the US is that the demographics that get tattooed here are slightly different.
    Much less people, to begin with. Tattoos are more common than they used to, but still nowhere close to the US. In this context, the ones who would likely fall for American/English fashion (say, japanese bubblegum teenagers) are still reluctant to get a tattoo. While the ones who get one are more likely to go either traditional (irezumi) or generic world-culture (tribal etc)…

  5. Dave, may I asked if you finally found a gym that allows tattoos? I have the same problem. the difference is that my tattoos are HUGE. hehehe. Thanks man!

  6. Andre,

    At the time, I had pretty much given-up: I’m no hardcore gym rat and often was out of the country for more time than would make it worth getting a subscription, so I made do with dumbbells at home and running round the park next-door.
    But it’s funny you asked: I just got back in Japan for 3 more months and figured I was gonna give it another shot. From the best of my knowledge, Tipness are the harshest one (I never ever actually showed my tattoos while exercising, yet, they somehow heard of it and kicked me out), I was told Gold Gym’s had more of a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy… Dunno how well that’d work if you got tattoos all over your face 😉 Another option might be the local fitness club at your neighbourhood’s city hall (kuyakusho). They all have one and it’s quite cheap, I hear, but it’s usually rather old equipment: no idea what their tattoo policy would be.

    Anyway: good luck, and be sure to let us know if you find one!

  7. A question: I recently got a tatto in Japan. My second. The first was in the States about ten years ago. I realized after the work was done that this Japanese artist with ten years in the traid
    de had done a much better job than that done on my original US tattoo. He even touched up the fine work on my old tattoo and I realized he had done a better job than the the original.
    However, he insists that I keep the tatto dry with minimal washing and no ointment. This approach varies greatly from the one I experienced over ten years ago in the State. Anti-bacterial ointments and all. I spoke about this to the Japanese artist and he assured me that his skill level meant that leaving the tattoo dry, to heal naturally, is the better course.
    I have almost no pain, other than some stiffness, but some minimal scabs. The artist says to trust him and leave it alone. No touching. I tend to agree with his confidence, the tattoo is on my shoulder, and he says even if I lose some coloration, he will touch up. Excellent service.
    However, do you agree with the no touch, no ant-bacterial ointment approach??

  8. Ive nver heard of that but here in germany i went to one place that used alcohol to whipe it down after tehy did it i was like OWWWWWWWW! but i have never heard of hte no ointment approach. I went to a lady about a month ago and got one done and she didnt go as deep as they tend to do in america.. it didnt scab at all and she said that it would need touch up because she didnt go so deep but that when i came back for the touch up it would look very nice after it healed. I went back and got it for free and still no scabbing and it looks VERY nice. It seems differnt cultures have differnt approaces to tattoo care and even how to do it.

  9. This EXACT same thing happened to me last night. I was kicked out of a gym for having a tattoo, despite bing a member for 3 months.
    I had always worn a t-shirt, the tattoo is on my arm.

    They are not even offering me a refund.
    Take my money and deny me service?

    Backwards, illogical, dumb, money hungry idiots.

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