A public bath facility in Eniwa, Hokkaido, refused entry to a Maori woman from New Zealand due to her face tattoos, a facility official said Thursday.
The Maori language lecturer, 60, has the tattoos, called ta moko, worn traditionally by some indigenous New Zealanders, on her lips and chin. She was in Hokkaido for a conference on indigenous languages in the town of Biratori in the northernmost prefecture.
On Sunday afternoon a group of 10 people involved in the conference visited the thermal baths but were refused entry by a facility staff member.
When a member of the group claimed the decision was discriminatory, the staff replied that the facility prohibits entry to anyone with tattoos in order to put customers at ease.
“Even if it is traditional culture, a typical person cannot judge the context behind the tattoos,” the facility official told reporters.
An Ainu language lecturer who was in the group said he felt sorry to disappoint an important guest.
“It is unfortunate that other cultures are not understood,” he said.
According to the food and sanitation section of the Hokkaido prefectural government and the National Federation of Public Bath Industry Trade Unions, the law on public baths allows operators to refuse entry to customers with infectious diseases, but does not rule on customers with tattoos.
Prohibition of tattoos is often used by public facilities in Japan to prevent entry by members of the country’s organized crime groups, many of whom have tattoos on their bodies.