Why are tattoos a problem in Japan?

Anyone visiting Japan with tattoos might find themselves excluded from swimming pools, gyms, bathhouses or any other place where their body art can be seen.

Any visitor with visible tattoos will probably attract stares and obvious signs of disapproval in public places. Tattooed expats often find it easier to make their way in Japanese society if they cover up their tattoos. 

In historic times tattooing was a form of branding and punishment for prisoners and criminals, and the stigma lingers.

In modern Japan tattoos are also closely associated with members of the yakuza, the criminal organisation that is Japan's version of Italy's Mafia. So close is this association that tattooed bodies are banned from many swimming pools and traditional ryokans.

This form of discrimination is not aimed specifically at those with tattoos, rather it's a way of excluding yakuza members from polite society. 

In fact there are bathhouses in Japan that are frequented by yakuza, and where tattooed bodies are therefore permitted.

For those who don't mind a walk on the wild side, a yakuza-friendly bathhouse is an experience you won't forget.