Tattooed, Foreign and in a Bathhouse

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Photo by Maarten Heerlien

Every foreigner that is planning to visit Japan hears about the hot spring and bathhouses, the wonders of the country. Bathhouses and hot springs are somewhat different though as the main difference is the water. Water in hot springs comes from the natural phenomenon of heated water being expelled from the ground, while a bathhouse is created through the somewhat modern system of indoor plumbing.

Bathhouses and hot springs usually have one import thing in common you are not allowed to wear a bathing suit in either one! A bit of shock to some of us, but our shocking revelations don’t end there, tattoos are also forbidden in most places.

Those of us with tattoos find it difficult to enjoy or enter places without getting politely asked to leave. Though many bathhouses and hot springs will give you a pass and allow a bandage over your tattoo, if you are as colourfully tattooed as I, you will find yourself in a bind. I would have to wrap myself like a mummy to hide my tattoos, which I doubt would be found acceptable by anyone. The only choice left to you is a bathhouse or hot spring where tattoos are allowed.

So being foreign, tattooed and confused in Kyoto, where does one find a bathhouse, accepting of all three?

Well known among the long time residents of Kyoto, is a foreigner friendly, tattoo friendly bathhouse called Gokouyu, a recommendation from my Japanese sparring partner. Thankfully, it turns out that I am not the only one of my circle of friends and acquaintances that is tattooed. Gokouyu is a local bathhouses where you can mix with the local residents both Japanese and foreign. The signs and explanations on how to use the place and the menu to buy items is written in English. The people in the bathhouse are accustomed to foreigners and will explain where everything is, how to use things or just chat with you out of curiosity.

bath-rules

Gokouyu is located right off of Gojo-Omiya. There are two floors; on the first before entering the changing rooms is a small café, after entering the changing room, you pass through doors into the baths and showers. On the second are the steam room, sauna, cold pool and semi-outdoor bath. Men and women’s areas are completely separate. The first floor contains 2 walls of showers, 4 different pools of various heat levels in the center of the room and the remaining 2 walls a pool each.

There are baths with jets, an electrical current –somehow quite popular in Japan, I yelped and ran away, my friend on the other hand found it enjoyable– a bath containing herbs said to eliminate ailments, and a wall proclaiming all the benefits bathers receive from bathing in the various pools. The second floor’s semi-outdoor pool is inside the building, but has several open windows, shielded by bamboo from prying eyes. As for products to use in the bathhouse, there are no mutual products so my suggestion is to either bring your own favored products, soaps, shampoos, and all, or to buy it at the front counter before entering the changing room. So, take it easy for a bit my fellow tattooed foreigners and enjoy a relaxing few hours away from the restless city adventures.

Access:

Gokouyu
590-1, Kakimotocho, Gojo, Kokumon-dori, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto

Bus from Kyoto Station:
From Kyoto Station take the kyoto 206 kitaoji bus to Omiya-Gojo. Cross the street, 3 minute walk.

Website: www.gokouyu.net

Telephone: 075-812-1126

Hours of Operation:
Monday-Saturday: 2:30 PM – 12:30 AM
Sunday: 7 AM – Midnight
Holidays: 11 AM – Midnight

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Language enthusiast, writer, jewelry craftsperson and avid martial artist rolled into one.
  • Katheryne says:

    Yananda< I have found that the younger crowd in Japan is more accepting of tattoos. However, other than people who are tattoed most Japanese people do not understand how tattoos work. For non-Japanese people it is more acceptable to have tattoos as long as they are covered up at most workplaces, the arts related fields are more accepting.

  • scuttlepants says:

    Looking for recommendations for mixed onsen. My friend is visiting and doesn’t want to go alone, but we are different genders. Any suggestions?

  • Ariel Basnight says:

    While I was in Japan I used a water-proof cover up for my large back tattoo to go to the bath house. My host mother had to help me cover it since it was on my back though.

  • Yananda says:

    Are Japanese becoming more acceptable of tattoos? Is it difficult to get an English Teaching job if you have tattoos? Mine for example are on my wrist and another running along the inside of my forearm. I am naturally willing to cover it but just wondering how much it will count against me when applying for a teaching job? Are there areas more acceptable than others?

    • Katie Rakoczy says:

      Tattoos are a part of MY culture so it’s a shame. But most eikawas seem to be aware and just tell you to cover it. JET asks you what you have, but most eikawas that I applied for, didn’t talk about it and just mentioned in a rule book that you would have to cover it no matter what. I am forced to cover when I walk around outside of work, should I accidentally run into any students. I don’t really know if people are as conservative around me as I’m told that they are.

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