Tattoos and Onsens – They Do Mix

Ah, the onsen—a distant dream for those with tattoos in Tokyo…or so we thought. More and more bathhouses are allowing our branded friends through the door, and after being wholly deprived of the water-based experience due to my body art, I wanted to seek one out to finally be able to say I had onsen-ed.

The list of tattoo-friendly onsens is short as tattoos are linked to the yakuza, Japan’s mafia. Hardly any bathhouses want to be known as their associates. Even fewer onsens are actually in the city, many being on the outer edges of town.

Ultimately, I decided on Saito-yu for my premier onsen experience. It is just off the Yamanote Line in Nippori, and supposedly friendly to tattooed folk. Whether that meant merely tolerating or actually inviting tattoos, I would soon find out.

I headed there late evening on a Sunday, hoping I hadn’t mistakenly understood this onsen to be welcoming. This particular bathhouse is open from 2:00 PM to 11:30 PM, making it great for night owls (a.k.a. me). It even has a stack of English brochures displayed outside the door, making me quite a bit more comfortable.

I ducked inside and paid for my ticket at the machine: ¥460. They also offer lotions and bath towels for purchase. Cautiously, I went to the changing room and began to ready myself for stares—I do happen to have a large red octopus running down my side—but to my surprise and relief, none came. After that it was smooth sailing...

By - grape Japan editorial staff.