Maori Woman Denied Hot Spring Entry Due To Tā Moko Tattoos

An example of a natural onsen in Hokkaido.

An example of a natural onsen in Hokkaido.

It is well-known that Japanese hot springs, or ‘onsen’ do not allow entry to people who have tattoos, although in the past there have been those who have refused entry to foreigners altogether.

The main reasoning behind not allowing those with tattoos into onsen is because is Japan, tattoos have long been associated with yakuza culture.

But now a Hokkaido onsen has refused entry to a Maori woman — despite protestations from her Japanese companions — because she wore the traditional Tā moko on her lips and chin.

Is more cultural understanding necessary? Or are rules, rules?

From MSN Sankei:

The Hokkaido Onsen Establishment That Refused Entry To A Tattooed Maori Woman

It was discovered during interviews for an article about onsens, that an onsen establishment in Eniwa, Hokkaido had refused a woman from the Maori people of New Zealand, who tattoo their faces, entry to the baths.

The woman (60) is a teacher of the Maori language, and has the tattoos associated with traditional Maori culture on her lips and chin. She had been invited to a group that studies the languages of indigenous peoples, held in Biratori, Hokkaido. On the afternoon of September 8, when around 10 members of the group visited an onsen in Eniwa, a member of staff apparently refused the woman entry to the baths.

Those accompanying the woman opposed this, but the onsen staff would not accept their opposition, “In order for us to allow our customers to bathe in comfort, we do not allow those with tattoos to enter the baths”.

In the interview about onsens, they explained, “Even if it is a cultural tradition, a normal person would be unable to judge the background of that tattoo”. A man who is a teacher of the Ainu language, who visited the onsen along with the Maori woman, said that: “It’s a real pity that the cultures of other countries aren’t being understood here”.

Comments from Twitter:


Reasonable. When in Rome, do as Romans do.


The tattoos of the Maori people are their culture. Japan is weird.

優貴 @( ゚∀゚);y=ー・∵.ターン:

#SmartNews Sure, it’s a foreign culture, but it’s also true that those around her probably couldn’t understand why she had them; it’s not just what you see on the outside…;


I don’t need intolerant people who can’t understand other cultures around me.


“It’s a real pity that the cultures of other countries aren’t being understood here”.
First of all, the thing is that those people should understand Japanese culture, the onsen has done nothing wrong.


So basically it’s alright for a New Zealander to not accept Japanese culture, then…


This is a difficult one, but the Japanese staff should have confirmed this beforehand. You can’t deny that they were unprepared. Still, I’ve never seen someone thrown out once they’ve entered the bath even though someone’s realised that they have tattoos. Difficult.


I’ve heard that the hot water in an onsen hurts people with tattooed skin, so they can’t go in an onsen…


It might be their culture, but you can’t tell that at a glance, can you? The onsen’s response was the right one. And I suppose that the people who are complaining about this actually know of the existence of each one of that small number of tribes in the world who have tattoos?


Rules are rules. It’s inevitable.


I feel sorry for the woman, but you can’t blame the onsen. We can’t just change things to suit foreign countries, but with the Olympics coming up and stuff, as the number of foreign customers increases, the matter is how are they going to deal with it?


What’s the problem?


Is this really something you write an article about? I think that what the onsen said is correct, and I think that it’s crazy that the man didn’t take them to privately-rented onsen, where even people with tattoos can go.

たら うまし:

#SmartNews It’s scary to see some weirdo tattoos on someone’s face! I guess that the Ainu teacher made a fuss, but we have no need to accept other cultures!


Hmm…I think that just because it is a foreign culture, doesn’t mean that you can make the people in the host country suddenly understand it, that’s impossible. It would have been fine if they’d just checked with the onsen.

Yoshinori Amagai PhD:

This is a hard one…that’s really how I feel. Whether a yakuza, an Ainu, or a Maori, tattoos are tattoos, I think it’s fine as long as they refused her because of the tattoos and not because she was a Maori.


We don’t know the specifics, so with regards to this “incident” it’s no comment from me, but in 7 years’ time when we have the Olympics, I wonder what they’re going to do? I’m sure that foreigners with tattoos will still want to use onsen.


Share This Article
Help us maintain a vibrant and dynamic discussion section that is accessible and enjoyable to the majority of our readers. Please review our Comment Policy »
Personals @ chinaSMACK - Meet people, make friends, find lovers? Don't be so serious!»