An onsen which denied a 60-year-old Maori woman entry on account of its no-tattoo policy finds herself the latest victim of Japan’s uncompromising attitude to ink, but as ever rigid application of the rules for no clear reason seems to enjoy substantial support.
According to the Hokkaido press, a 60-year-old Maori language instructor from New Zealand was visiting a school attempting to preserve the language of the Ainu, the remains of Hokkaido’s indigenous tribes.
After her visit to the school finished, she visited a local onsen with staff in hopes of taking the waters and dining there.
However, the onsen noticed the traditional Maori tattoos she bore on her chin and lip, and promptly threw her out as a result of the establishment’s “no tattoos” policy.
The Ainu accompanying her urged the baths to consider letting her in on the grounds of cultural tolerance, but they were having none of it.
Such policies are nearly universal amongst both private and public leisure facilities in Japan, being the result of the common Japanese belief that only criminals, foreigners and other undesirables have tattoos.
In this case the onsen insisted they were but innocent hostages to the prejudices of the Japanese people, saying:
“We understand there are various reasons people have tattoos, but our patrons don’t understand this. If we made an exception for her, we’d have betrayed their trust.”
The Maori woman refused entry only said that she felt “deep sadness” over the episode.
Online there is usual glee at the opportunity to bash the tattooed deviants, and the onsen’s high standard of hospitality in excluding anyone who might disturb actual Japanese seems to enjoy much approval:
“Well, this can’t be helped.”
“Can’t be helped, it is not a matter of whether she is Maori or not.”
“Of course she was turned away, why wouldn’t she be?”
“These people are retarded… the sole point of tattoo bans is to exclude yakuza and other punks.”
“Don’t give that yakuza scum any way in!”
“Well, fashion tattoos are out too. It is not like you can tell the difference between one type and another.”
“If they made any exception it would be abused.”
“Give her a break you stupid onsen. This is how international human rights issues get started.”
“It would be racist to just let her in because she is from a particular race.”
“I can’t believe they can’t make an exception for cultural tattoos?”
“How are yakuza tattoos not cultural and how can you make the distinction?”
“Yakuza tattoos are cultural. If they let her in and not yakuza it would be a form of discrimination.”
“What’s to stop yakuza claiming to be Maori and demanding to be let in!”
“Can’t be helped. Letting her in would be a betrayal of their customers.”
“It is a private onsen, right? So they can refuse whoever they like for any reason.”
“Japanese really have no ability to adapt rules to the demands of the situation, do they? If they so much as considered the intent of these rules they would never have done this.”
“Treating everyone the same based on physical appearance is completely correct. How can you be expected to make subtle distinctions based on individual cases?”
“Blame the people who took her with them! They should have bathed he at one of their homes or something.”
“The Ainu have tattoos too. I can’t help but think they planned this malciously. The hotel did well to keep them out.”
“They were Japanese, they must have known this would happen. It was their fault, not the onsen.”
“It is unfortunate, but this is Japan! This lot is quick to enforce their own rules in their own territory!”
“Natives should stay in the mountains where they belong. We have rules in the city, obey them.”
“I really don’t see why non-gangsters with tattoos can’t be allowed to use these facilities. This is far too insulting to foreign tourists with tattoos in particular. But refusing entry to people from anti-Japanese nations seems a good idea though!”
“People with tattoos ought to stick to tattoo-OK places.”
“Just make tattoo-only onsens. Foreigners can go to foreigner-only places.”
“This was horrible to the Maori woman but the establishment cannot be blamed for enforcing its rules.”
“Does anyone find ethnic tattoos scary or disagreeable? They ought to have shown some flexibility here.”
“In Aotearoa tattoos are a symbol of social respect. In Japan they are a symbol of anti-social intent. If you go to another country you should respect their ways.”
“People with tattoos are scary. The onsen did well to keep this woman out. You can’t start making distinctions between good tattoos and bad tattoos!”