Water is a purifying component in Japanese culture. When entering a Shinto shrine, one is encouraged to cleanse their hands and mouth with water at the entrance gate. There are fountains and cups provided at every shrine. An extension of this purifying belief is the onsen, or Japanese hot spring. Onsen is a bath in naturally heated water that one enjoys after taking a shower. One must completely clean the soap and germs off of the body before engaging in a soak in the onsen. Onsen is an incredibly popular pastime in Japan, and a very important part of the culture. People will travel to far off destinations to spend a day or two soaking in an onsen at a resort. Some onsen are state-of-the-art and some are traditional. Some have beautiful views and others are privatized for individual use. Whatever your goal is, you can find the right onsen for you.
Tattoos also have a long and deep history within Japanese culture. Irezumi is a Japanese word meaning tattoo, but its use in English applies to many different types of tattoos and traditions. The Ainu people of Hokkaido and the Ryukyuan people of Okinawa both incorporated tattoos into their cultures. Tebori is an original tattoo technique created in Japan where the tattoo is completed by hand.
Today, however, many onsen forbid people with tattoos. So why are tattoos and onsen like oil and water in Japan? To answer this question, we must look to the past. The Edo period in Japan was when tattoos progressed from forms of punishment and fleeting fashion styles to a recognized form of art and expression. Under the Meiji period, when Japan was attempting to modernize itself, tattooing became outlawed. The tradition of tattooing continued to spread, albeit underground, and the result was a mindset creating a link between tattoos and criminality or mischief. This idea of tattoos being for the “bad guys” continued as tattoos became synonymous with the Yakuza, the Japanese mafia. In an attempt to prevent degenerates and gangsters in their facilities, many onsen and other business owners began rejecting customers with tattoos.
With tattoos becoming so popular in Western culture, and increasing in popularity among the Japanese youth culture, it has become a chore for those tattooed individuals looking to enjoy a traditional Japanese experience at an onsen. Private onsens will be a safe choice for those who has tattoos. We’ve compiled a list of 10 of the best private onsen which is tattoo-friendly in all of Japan, from Aichi to Tokushima and everywhere in between.
- 1. Ten no Maru (Aichi)
- 2. Hoshi no Akari (Tochigi)
- 3. Ikaho Onsen Ryokan Sakurai (Gunma)
- 4. Kameya Rakan (Shizuoka)
- 5. Shimayado Mari (Kagawa)
- 6. Yamadaya Hotel (Yamanashi)
- 7. Kamino Yu Onsen (Yamanashi)
- 8. Keisetsu no Yado Soyoubun (Gunma)
- 9. Kaishu (Wakayama)
- 10. Resort Hotel Moana Coast (Tokushima)
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1. Ten no Maru (Aichi)
Ten no Maru is located in central Japan in Aichi prefecture. It has stunning views overlooking the mountains and Mikawa Bay. It is part of a spa resort that also has dining and massage options.
2. Hoshi no Akari (Tochigi)
Hoshi no Akari is in the historic Tochigi prefecture. Part of a ryokan, a Japanese-style inn, this onsen has excellent dining options and an open-air bath that overlooks the Kanto Plane and Mt. Nasutake.
Hoshi no Akari
Hours: 9:00 AM – 8:00 PM
3. Ikaho Onsen Ryokan Sakurai (Gunma)
Ikaho Onsen Ryokan Sakurai is about a 20 minute bus ride away from Shibukawa Station in Gunma prefecture. It has outdoor and indoor onsen options as well as a dining area suitable for a nice getaway trip.
Ikaho Onsen Ryokan Sakurai
Hours: 8:30 AM – 6:30 PM
4. Kameya Rakan (Shizuoka)
Kameya Rakan is only a 5 minute walk from Ito Station in Shizuoka prefecture, near the famous resort town of Atami. It is very near the ocean, so you can enjoy both the onsen and the beach.
5. Shimayado Mari (Kagawa)
6. Yamadaya Hotel (Yamanashi)
Yamadaya Hotel is in the beautiful and mountainous Yamanashi prefecture. One can take in a hot bath outdoors with a view of Mt.Fuji. The facility also includes a traditional dining area.
7. Kamino Yu Onsen (Yamanashi)
Kamino Yu Onsen is also located in Yamanashi prefecture. This onsen offers beautiful bathing facilities and views of the natural scenery around as you enjoy a meal.
8. Keisetsu no Yado Soyoubun (Gunma)
Keisetsu no Yado Shobun located in central Japan in Gunma prefecture offers a wonderful dining experience with fresh vegetables and spacious private rooms to relax when not enjoying onsen.
9. Kaishu (Wakayama)
Kaishu is located just south of Osaka in Wakayama. This onsen is one of the oldest hot springs in Japan with over 1,300 years of history. There are several different onsens but three different private open-air onsen available with beautiful ocean view.
10. Resort Hotel Moana Coast (Tokushima)
Resort Hotel Moana Coast is located near the beach on the stunning island of Shikoku near Tokushima. Enjoy the modern rooms that include private baths and wonderful views overlooking the ocean outside. A beautiful seating area in the dining room also includes ocean-side views.
Resort Hotel Moana Coast
Hours: 9:00 AM – 9:00 PM
Tattoos are becoming more and more popular in the modern world. Celebrities, athletes and others are making the decision to imprint something meaningful to them on their skin as a form of fashion. Though Japan has a rich history of tattooing and includes unique tattooing methods and tools, such as Nara ink or zumi, it has always associated tattoos with a criminal, underworld aspect. This too is related to the history in Japan and traditional practices merging with modern sensibilities. However, things are starting to change. There are pushes made to move the art form forward and progress it into becoming the commonly seen and expressive fashion that it has become in many western countries.
Onsen too, have a rich and meaningful history in Japan. It is our sincere hope that those who travel to Japan will have the opportunity to experience the wonderful, spiritual onsen ritual that is so commonly practiced in Japan. Whether or not the traveler has any tattoos, we hope this guide will help people to bond over some of the unique cultural aspects that Japan has to offer as Japanese society becomes more and more accepting of tattoo culture and modern tattoos.
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Trevor Jones is an educator and an aspiring marketer. Originally from the United States, he moved to Tokyo in 2017. Trevor enjoys exploring new destinations and sharing his experiences. He can be found on Instagram at @tjones312