No Tattoos Sign

This sign on a sento (public bath house) says “Irezumi no kata okotowari shimasu.” (People with tatoos are not permitted).

A lot of non-Japanese people with tattoos worry about whether they will be allowed into sento or hot springs, but it’s not usually a problem. There is a distinction in Japan between “irezumi,” Japanese-style tattoos done with traditional methods, and “tatu,” modern tattoos done with electric tattoo machines. As long as a person isn’t covered with them, there shouldn’t be a problem because the “no tattoos” rule seems to be just a polite way to say “no yakuza.”

Here’s a really interesting thesis written by a woman who studied traditional tattoing in Japan. At first she tried to visit tattoo studios and talk with yaks, but she recounts how she had more success working in a hostess club and getting gangsters to talk about and show off their tattoos there! It’s pretty long and academic, but full of interesting information:

If you’d like a shorter, easier read, try:

Little Fireman

Cute kid trying on fire fighter’s outfit at a fire safety promotion in Ueno Park, Tokyo.

Bored Souvenir Seller

I guess selling souvenirs isn’t the most exciting job in the world.

Kyoto Bar

Random Scenes From the Asakusa Samba Carnival (2)

Here are some more photos of the Asakusa Samba Carnival.

Other samba posts are here, here, and here.


These are hanko, personal seals. Most people use them instead of signatures.

Grave Cleaning Day

In the traditional Tokyo neighborhood of Yanaka, the smell of incense and sounds of people scrubbing gravestones fills the air every year on September 23. It’s higan, the time of the equinox, and Japanese people go to graveyards all over the country for ohaka mairi (grave visits) to pay their respects to their ancestors.
It’s said that the Higan observance comes from a Buddhist belief that when the night and day are equally divided, Buddha appears on earth for a week to save stray souls and lead them to Nirvana, so there are observances both in spring (shunbun) and autumn (shubun).

A woman on her way to pay her respects at a grave.

This woman is carrying a sotoba, a wooden stick which has the deceased person’s kaimyo written on it. A kaimyo is a special name that is given to the person after he or she dies.

A typical grave.

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