When I traveled to Japan, I worried having tattoos would make my experience difficult
14.11.2023 - 16:59
I'd wanted to get a tattoo since I was 18 years old. I loved the idea of carrying art on my body with me wherever I went and was drawn to literary-themed tattoos.
Because I had so many different ideas and was also nervous about how much it would hurt, I spent years adding tattoo ideas to a Pinterest board and jealously ogling other people's.
In my early 30s, I had been reading a lot of books about trees and how they supported each other through their root system. Inspired by that, I contacted a tattoo shop and got my first one in 2021.
The minute it healed, I was itching to get another. I have only one, a set of three trees in various stages of growth on my left bicep. My husband also has one on his forearm — a narwhal in the style of Audubon drawings.
My husband and I never worried about what people would think about our tattoos until we started planning a trip to Japan. I thought our tattoos would be a big deal, but they weren't.
We discovered through our research that having tattoos might be an issue. In Japan, body art is considered taboo because of its ties to the yakuza, aka the Japanese mob.
While this is starting to change, some Japanese onsen, or hot springs, won't allow people with tattoos to enter. It's a way to bar yakuza without directly discriminating against them.
Before arriving in Japan, I wasn't sure whether we would get a lot of stares while out in public or at an onsen.
Our trip began in Tokyo, which is where I assumed we would have the most issues in such a large city because, with the warmer weather, we would be wearing short sleeves, while surrounded by people. I'm not sure if it was because the city was full of foreigners with tattoos prominently displayed or that Japanese people have accepted that body art is common in other parts of the world, but no one gave us a second look.
Though we didn't make it to a hot spring in Tokyo, I learned that there were many tattoo-friendly onsen. We also read that many times, if you just covered up body art with bandages, most places wouldn't have an issue.
Toward the end of our trip, while in Yakushima, an island south of mainland Japan, my husband and I visited a hot spring by the Pacific Ocean. This had been high on our bucket list. It's not just unique but also accessible only when there's a low tide, and the view is gorgeous. We couldn't wait to sit in a relaxing, warm pool while feeling the cool ocean breeze, with the waves rolling toward us.
As we arrived, we realized we had forgotten a bandage or anything to cover up our tattoos. Luckily, I had a quick-dry towel, so when we got to the circle of rocks where we could change, I helped my husband wrap his arm and then put a hair tie over it to keep it tight.
For my tattoo, I had a