Maori Scholar Denied Entry to Hokkaido Hot Spring Because of Traditional Facial Tattoo

September 12, 2013

Erana Brewerton, a respected Maori scholar on a cultural program visiting Hokkaido was denied entry to a hot spring in Hokkaido that prohibits tattoos. Brewerton is a celebrated scholar in New Zealand and has a traditional tattoo on her face.

Many hot springs have policies prohibiting tattoos but in many cases are not enforced unless the guest has given some other cause for being ejected. In this case reports say that she was visiting  the resort with a group of about 10 people for dinner and to enter the hot spring. Accompanying guests of Ainu descent reportedly called for the hot spring to show more cultural sensitivity, but in the end they were denied entry.

A representative of the hot spring reportedly said that they understand different tattoos have different backgrounds, but that customers may not understand that, and if they allow exceptions they might lose the trust of their customers.

I’ll editorialize a bit to say that a 60-year-old linguist with a small tattoo on her chin is hardly going to cause any kind of negative stir. If anything, your average Japanese person would jump at the opportunity to get to know her… and the other 9 people (including Japanese people of Ainu descent) who were with her.

One argument I’ve seen several times in comments on the internet is that the organizers never should have gone to a hot spring with a sign outside prohibiting tattoos.┬áSome also argue that the shop is allowed to refuse service if it so chooses. I’ve even seen the opinion that it’s Japan and they need to respect Japanese culture… the counter argument to this is that it’s not necessarily “Japanese culture” to discriminate against tattoos, it’s certainly not illegal.

On the other hand, the people refused entry also have the right to publicize the issue in the name of education and cultural awareness.

There are beaches and shops that still discriminate against people with tattoos and I would love to see citizens with tattoos in Japan organize and educate the populace. Again, it may be the shop’s prerogative to refuse service, but it’s kind of silly. Would they have turned away a Hollywood starlet?

This will continue to be a hot issue in Japan as events last year with Osaka mayor Toru Hashimoto crusading against tattoos has shown.

The bottom line in this case, however is that the Maori tattoos are a cultural issue, and the case is more akin to wearing a burqa than to a cool dude peacocking his ink at the beach, and certainly warrants discussion.


I’m reminded of a clause in my first rental contract for an apartment in Japan which specifically had a clause prohibiting any playing of Mah Jong in the room. The intention here was to keep Yakuza members from renting an apartment there… because, you know, of all the things the Yakuza are known for, one thing they would never do is violate some small print in a contract for a one room apartment in Osaka.