10 Most Unique Tattoo Friendly Onsens Near Tokyo, Japan
Looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of metropolitan Tokyo by experiencing an onsen? Whether you have a tattoo or not, I’d say this is the best decision you could have made! I’m completely obsessed with the relaxation and comfort that results from a trip to the onsen, and I’m certain you will be too!
Having gone through the laborious process of locating a tattoo-friendly onsen for my own trip, I totally get the struggle. There just aren’t that many informational resources (in English) out there. So as a part of this post, I’ve done the research for you and picked out the top 10 most unique tattoo-friendly onsens and ryokans near Tokyo so you don’t have to search or travel too far and wide for that special onsen experience. Now let’s help you to better understand the onsen culture and get you ready for that onsen life!
Why Are Tattoos Generally Not Allowed?
Although in many other cultures tattoos are seen as a common form of self-expression, there is a big gap in recognition between Japanese culture and other cultures. To understand why tattoos are often seen as “taboo” in the traditional Japanese culture (particularly with the elderly), we have to take a look back in history. Tattoos in Japan have historically been affiliated with the Yakuza (gangsters) or “anti-social forces”.
So why does that limit your ability to visit the onsen? Well, onsens are a part of the service industry. Onsen businesses are traditionally worried that the presence of tattoos might scare away other clients/customers because of their historical taboo and affiliation with gang members. Should this notion stop you from trying the onsen experience? No! If you’re remotely interested in experiencing an onsen, I’d say you should absolutely try–it’s a great change of pace from the hustle and bustle of modern Japan.
Tattoos are becoming more and more common in Japan (particularly among the younger generations) and tourism is booming now more than ever, meaning the number of foreign visitors (with tattoos being a norm) is ever-growing. As a result, more and more onsens and ryokans have adapted by changing their previous no-tattoo policies to tattoo-friendly policies.
4 Ways To Bathe With Tattoos
- Onsen workers will not be searching your body for tattoos before allowing you in. You could strategically go to an onsen at certain times/days to avoid busy periods and running into lots of people.
- In general, ryokans have less foot traffic compared to public baths. If you opt for a ryokan, you may feel more at ease with fewer people around.
- Ryokans often have open bath areas as well as private onsen rooms. If available, you can book a private bathing room, allowing you to enjoy onsen in peace (with or without tattoos) because there is no chance of anyone seeing you.
- You can also consider getting some waterproof tattoo stickers, which essentially act as skin-colored camouflage to conceal your tattoos.
Before you jump right into an onsen for the first time, there are a few rules you should be aware of.
- Get naked.
- As this is a bath and not a pool, you must take off all of your clothing and leave it in the changing area. There is no need to be shy because everyone else there is also doing the same. It’s a judgment-free zone and nobody is going to be looking at you.
- Rinse off.
- After entering the bath area, you’ll need to wash yourself off at the showers before entering the baths. (In Japan, baths are for soaking, not for cleaning yourself. You gotta do that beforehand.) The shower areas typically consist of a showerhead, a small stool, and shower/bath toiletries.
- Put your stuff away.
- Once you’ve completely rinsed off, feel free to enter the baths. Some people like to bring a face towelette with them (to be placed on the head or the face). Aside from this towel, refrain from bringing anything else in.
- Now sit back, relax, and enjoy the warm soothing waters of the onsen!
Onsen vs. Ryokan
Very quickly before we dive into the best tattoo-friendly onsens, I’d like to go over the difference between an onsen and a ryokan (you’ll read about both in the list below). The primary difference between onsen and ryokan is whether or not you can sleep there overnight.
Onsen: refers to any body of water that it is fed by a natural hot spring in Japan, (regardless of its location, whether it’s in a manmade tub or in a natural pool). Not all of the onsens you visit will provide you with a place to sleep. A lot of them are day-use facilities only.
Ryokan: refers to a “traditional Japanese inn”. Ryokans tend to have a few distinguishing features such as tatami mats for sleeping, traditional wood paneling, and half board (dinner and breakfast). Guests will usually take off their shoes upon entering the inn and will wear yukatas during their stay. And for the most part, the majority of ryokans have some sort of public bathing area.
Before making a decision on which onsen best suits you, figure out if you want to just bathe for a few hours and go home, or if you want to spend the night and commit to the whole ryokan experience. (And trust me, an experience it is.) Staying at a ryokan often costs a lot more, but in my opinion, it is totally worth the money.
Read more about my first ryokan experience at Shima Onsen Kashiwaya Ryokan here.
Tattoo Friendly Onsens Near Tokyo, Japan
In the central Tokyo neighborhood of Nippori, you will find Saito-Yu, a welcoming sentō (bathhouse) popular with locals. This charming bathhouse holds a collection of large public baths with different water types at ranging temperatures. Among some of their offerings are hot tubs, hot water baths, lukewarm baths for those who don’t like hot, as well as a “high concentration artificial carbonated spring” (meant to promote blood circulation). They also have water jets and a gentle electric bath. Another cool thing about this spot: you can grab a draft beer in the facility right after your bath!
- Address: 6-59-2 Higashinippori, Arakawa, Tokyo (see on Google Maps)
- Website: saito-yu.com
- Entrance Fee: Adults – 470 yen
- Transportation: Central Tokyo, 5 minutes from Nippori Station by foot
At Mikokuyu, you will be treated with a view of Tokyo Skytree from their rotemburo (open-air hot spring bath). Mikokuyu is a building-style bathhouse with portions of the bathhouse on the first, fourth, and fifth floors. The first floor is where the reception and rest area is located while the fourth and fifth floors are where the baths are located. Each floor has a very different architectural style from the next, which lends to a very pleasant experience. For those who have trouble handling the traditional hot water of many onsens, this pace is for you since many of its baths offer a variety of water temperatures (from scalding hot to very chilly).
- Address: 3-30-8 Sumida, Ishiwara, Tokyo (see on Google Maps)
- Website: mikokuyu.com
- Entrance Fee: Adults – 470 yen
- Private Bath Rental: (90 mins) 1,500yen
- Transportation: Central Tokyo. A 20-minute walk from Tokyo Skytree or 10-minute walk from Kinshicho Station
If you’re into modern and minimalist style, this sentō is well worth a visit! Hisamatsuyu is another central Tokyo onsen, located a few minutes away from Ikebukuro. Upon walking in, you’ll notice just how unique this onsen is compared to traditional bathhouses. Namely speaking, Hisamatsuyu is a contemporary dream. They’re known for their use of visual projections in the bath areas, creating an ultra-modern and relaxing atmosphere. Aside from the main bath, there are hot tubs and electric baths here. The main attraction here is the outdoor, carbonated hot spring bath, set among a variety of natural plants and rocks. Since this is a sentō, you should bring your own soap and towel to save money (~80 yen), though Hisamatsuyu also provides towel rentals and shampoo for purchase.
- Address: 4-32-15 Sakuradai, Nerima, Tokyo 1760002, Japan (see on Google Maps)
- Website: hisamatsuyu.jp
- Entrance Fee: Adults – 460 yen
- Sauna Access: 400 yen
- Transportation: Located a few minutes away from Sakuradai Station, 10 minutes away from Ikebukuro Station in Tokyo
Just 5 minutes from Shin-Okubo Station in the middle of Tokyo’s bustling Koreatown, you will find Mannenyu, a traditional Japanese onsen / sentō. Upon walking in, you’ll get the all-around classic atmosphere of a sentō, allowing you to lose track of time and enjoy the relaxing atmosphere. Inside you’ll find a selection of different bathing options including extra-hot baths, jet stream baths, cooler baths, and a plunge pool for cooling off. Shampoo, soap and other amenities such as hairdryers are provided, but bring your own towel (towels are available to rent, too).
- Address: 1-15-17 Okubo, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo (see on Google Maps)
- Website: mannenyu.jp
- Entrance Fee: Adults – 460 yen
- Transportation: Nearest Station is Shin-Okubo Station / Shinjuku
Yamato no Yu (Narita / 1hr from Tokyo)
Located not too far from Narita airport, Yamato no Yu is a beautiful and modern hot spring bathhouse that’s easy to access straight from the airport or as a short day trip from Tokyo. Situated in the middle of a quiet farming town, this onsen has a luxe spa-like feel while still maintaining the rural countryside vibe that many onsens traditionally have. The architecture/design of this onsen is pretty impressive, creating a retreat-like atmosphere with its traditional wood paneling and soft lighting throughout. There are indoor and outdoor baths, saunas, and even private baths overlooking the rice fields for rent. There is also a lounge, guestrooms, and an onsite sushi restaurant.
- Address: 1630 Otake, Narita 286-0841, Chiba (see on Google Maps)
- Website: yamatonoyu.com
- Entrance Fee: Adults – Weekdays 800 yen, Weekends and Holidays: 1,000 yen.
- Private Room Rental: 2,800-8,500 yen depending on the number of people/length of time (max 4 people/room)
- Transportation: Close to Narita Airport, 10 minutes from Ajiki Station by taxi, 1-2 hours by train from Tokyo
Hakone Guest House Samurai Oyado (Hakone / 2hr from Tokyo)
If you plan on visiting the onsen hotspot destination of Hakone, then check out Hakone Guest House Samurai Oyado. Samurai Oyado is actually a guesthouse (mostly shared dormitory-style rooms, but some private rooms as well). As a patron of the guest house, you can enjoy the natural hot springs free of charge. The outdoor baths are surrounded by Japanese style gardens, which adds to the traditional vibe of the onsen experience. Compared to many other pricier accommodation options in Hakone, this is a steal.
- Address: 1-19-13 Sakaecho, Odawara, Kanagawa (see on Google Maps)
- Website: samurai-hakone.com (Samurai Oyado on Booking.com)
- Price: 3,000 – 12,000 yen for an overnight room with bath access
- Transport: 20 minutes from Gora Station by foot, 2 hours from Shinjuku Station by train
Tenzan Onsen (Hakone / 2hr from Tokyo)
Tenzan is a day-use onsen located in Hakone. A few words to describe this bathhouse— authentic, quiet, and peaceful. As you soak in the various outdoor baths, you’ll be constantly surrounded by tranquility and beautiful greenery. Once you buy your entrance ticket from a vending machine outside, there are plenty of different baths ranging in design and temperature to choose from. The spacious facility feature tree-ringed courtyards, a relaxation/rest area, a restaurant, and a gift shop. Don’t forget to bring a towel!
- Address: 208 Yumotochaya, Hakone, Ashigarashimo District, Kanagawa (See on Google Maps)
- Website: tenzan.jp/
- Entrance Fee: Adult – 1,300 yen
- Transportation: 2 hours from Tokyo. From there, an easy bus ride from Hakone-Yumoto Station.
The Ryokan Tokyo Yugawara (Yugawara / 1.5hr from Tokyo)
The Ryokan Tokyo Yugawara– what a modern dream! This ryokan is a uniquely decorated bathhouse inn that attempts to showcase the highlights and history of Japan. It has both traditional ryokan accommodation as well as dormitory-style rooms. The rooms are very modern, spacious, and lively. Because The Ryokan Tokyo offers meals and other services separately from the cost of lodging, you have the power to make your experience as affordable or as expensive as you want it to be. They also offer lots of packages with half-board.
- Address: 742 Miyakami Kanagawa, Yugawara-machi, Ashigarashimo-gun 259-0314 Kanagawa Prefecture (See on Google Maps)
- Website: theryokantokyo.com
- Entrance Fee: Adults – 2,000 yen
- Transportation: 1.5-hour train ride from Tokyo, then 10-minute by taxi/bus from Yugawara Station
Hottarakashi Onsen (Kofu / 2hr from Tokyo)
What makes Hottarakashi stand out among the other tattoo-friendly onsens is its incredible backdrop of Mt. Fuji. In fact, they want you to advantage of the views here. The baths open one hour before sunrise and stay open until after dark, allowing visitors to experience both the sunrise and sunset while soaking in the baths (it would be pretty cool to stargaze from within the baths, too). The onsen offers two separate baths with separate admission fees; the Kocchi no Yu typically has shorter open hours than the Acchi no Yu, with the latter being situated further east along the mountainside, thus provides better sunrise views.
Address: 1669-18 Yatsubo, Yamanashi (see on Google Maps)
Price: Adult 800 yen
Transportation: 1.5 hours from Tokyo to Yamanashi Station, then 10 minutes by taxi from Yamanashi Station
Shima Onsen Kashiwaya Ryokan (Nakanojo / 3hr from Tokyo)
This amazing ryokan is situated in the small and tranquil town of Nakanojo, Gunma Prefecture. It’s roughly three hours by bullet train from Tokyo, which may seem like a pain, but trust me when I say the overnight experience at this inn is a must-experience. Not only do they have open-air baths separated by men and women, but they also have 3 other private baths that are available to guests free of charge. If you’re worried about your tattoo showing, it’s absolutely no problem in these private bathing rooms.
They also offer free bike rentals so you can spend your day exploring the town before retreating back to the ryokan for a night soak. Throughout your stay, enjoy the over-the-top hospitality of a traditional ryokan and for dinner, stuff your belly to the brim with beautifully handcrafted kaiseki dishes in the comfort of your own room.
- Address: 3829 Shima, Nakanojo, Agatsuma District, Gunma 377-0601 (see on Google Maps)
- Website: kashiwaya.org (Kashiwaya Ryokan on Booking.com)
- Price: Onsen use is included with stay. Also includes dinner and breakfast.
- Private bath: Free use with overnight stay.
- Transportation: 25 minutes by bus from Nakanjo Station
Other Tattoo-Friendly Onsen Resources
Aside from these 10 facilities, there are many other tattoo-friendly onsens throughout Japan. Tattoo Friendly is probably the most robust resource out there for locating onsens across the country, so take advantage of their site if you’re looking for something further away from Tokyo.
If you’re unsure about the policy of a ryokan or an onsen that you’re interested in, just send them an email or call to confirm their policy before booking. If you absolutely fall in love with a ryokan or onsen not listed on any tattoo-friendly onsen lists, I’d recommend contacting them nevertheless. It never hurts to ask (and I’ve actually heard from several travelers that they were actually permitted to bathe in an onsen with a “no-tattoo” policy). Good luck, I hope you find the onsen of your relaxation dreams!
My Ryokan Experience: Shima Onsen Kashiwaya Ryokan