Generally speaking, having a tattoo in Japan negatively affects your ability to find a job. In some cases, it may even be impossible. That is an unfortunate fact about job hunting in Japan. However, this generalization mainly applies to large companies, banks, and positions in a public office.
While it is true that most companies prefer candidates without tattoos in Japan, some industries that are not so conservative do not mind. Of course, creative industries are much more forgiving when it comes to expressing yourself with ink. Besides that, jobs that focus on skill also care more about the talent of their employees than their tattoos.
In short, having a tattoo in Japan makes finding a job more difficult. However, some industries and smaller companies do allow tattoos. For example, the agriculture and construction industries don’t seem to have problems with tattoos. Luckily they are among the Japanese industries hungry for foreign workers.
Can I cover my tattoo in Japan?
In some cases, you can get away with covering your tattoo. However, you will be required to wear long sleeves or other accessories whenever you are working or going to and from your place of work. You should be aware than many places in Japan get very hot during the summer, so be prepared to handle the heat while covering your tattoo!
I sometimes see convenient store or other workers wearing turtleneck sweaters under their uniforms, even during August! That is usually a sure sign that a tattoo is hiding somewhere. Fortunately, some new cooling fabric has become popular over the years. That should help with the heat.
Ways to cover up your tattoo at work or in public:
This is the most obvious answer. Jackets, cardigans, sweaters, long-sleeved business shirts are all natural ways to keep you tattoo hidden. But you should make sure that your tattoo does not visibly bleed through your shirt.
Sweatbands can be handy if you are trying to cover smaller tattoos around your wrist. There are particularly useful when trying to get into a strict public gym.
UV protection sleeves
These may not be the most fashionable way to cover your tattoo in Japan, but it very practical, especially in the summer! It is much cooler than wearing a sweater and apparently helps protect against skin damage from the sun. You’ll often see some ladies wearing them while knocking pedestrians off the sidewalk with their massive bicycles.
This dramatic method of covering is a last resort when you have no other clothes with you. Hopefully that only happens when you enter a public bath or onsen. Of course, it depends on the size of your tattoo. Don’t expect to be able to wrap your whole body up in medical tape and hop into the bath with everyone.
Living with tattoos in Japan
Though some companies may allow you to cover your tattoo, you shouldn’t try to “hide” your tattoo from your boss. What that means is that you probably can’t keep your tattoo a secret from your employer forever. At some point, your tattoo may be revealed through social media, during a company trip, or a wild company nomikai, or Japanese drinking party. If you suspect that company you are applying for is strict, you should be honest about your tattoo and try to resolve it.
Strangely, despite some conservative companies and facilities, the Japanese public has mostly started to accept tattoos. Plenty of inked up travelers or foreign workers have few problems related to their tattoos in their daily lives. Besides the occasional curious looks (if your ink is particularly awesome), Japanese people don’t give too much thought about tattoos.
Why is having tattoos in Japan bad?
Though tattoos appeared to start out having decorative or spiritual meanings, eventually tattoos in Japan became associated with gangs. In fact, some businesses, like Japanese public baths or gyms, even go as far as barring customers with ink on their skin in an attempt to block gang members from taking over their facilities.
With that said, there are some signs of hope that society will some day accept tattoos. Especially in tourist hot spots, some public baths will allow tattoos to welcome more foreign people.