Tattoos in Japan

I am a heavily tattooed woman, at least in the eyes of the Japanese culture. I have a half sleeve on my right arm, tattoos on my thighs, shoulders, wrist, and much more. Within the United States, it’s normal to be heavily tattooed especially within my generation. You can get jobs, you can be successful students, and live a normal life. There’s no discrimination against people who are heavily tattooed. I don’t have to worry about a career or being seen as professional when you work and live in United States. It’s just a different culture.

Before heading to Japan, I heard stories of how Westerners with tattoos wouldn’t be able to go certain places, get stared at, get kicked out of places, what have you. Which terrified me, especially when I heard the job market will be next to nothing if I ever wanted a full career in Japan. Unless, I wanted to cover myself up entirely to keep people from seeing my skin. However, Japan gets incredibly hot in the summer, and I’m not about to sweat to death. 

During my entire stay in Japan I was never kicked out of any place, but people definitely did stare, and my students did a lot of touching. Which, I didn’t mind! I was accustomed to my students and comfortable with them, and their curiosity was very cute to me. So, I let them indulge in how my skin didn’t feel any differently, and answered as many questions as I coud. I had to be a little bit more precautious when volunteering outside of the school, because I didn’t want to offend anyone. Which was ultimately my biggest drawback. It wasn’t that anyone made me feel unwelcomed, it was that in my mind I was scared that I was going to offend anyone. I didn’t want to go to bathhouses, even if I knew they were okay with foreigners with tattoos, because in my mind I thought I would make the other bathers uncomfortable. I wanted to be as reclusive as possible and not bring any attention to myself. So, I avoided bathhouses, gyms, and any place where I could make people in a close vicinity uncomfortable. 

That was really stupid of me! If you are a tattooed Westerner coming to Japan, don’t be scared. Indulge in your experiences, enjoy you time there. Within bigger cities, like Tokyo and Osaka, you’re fine to enjoy your time. However, please be conscientious of your surroundings and the environment around you. Don’t limit yourself and your experiences, but still be respectful and aware of the people around you. 

An ode to the students of IC

The students of Ibaraki Christian University are a truly remarkable bunch. Their love, kindness and hospitality made living and teaching, over the course of these 3-months, in Japan an unforgettable and rewarding experience. They have made me feel so at home, that Ibaraki became my second home.

And as I leave IC and finish my internship, I have a written a poem to express my sincere gratitude to all the IC students who have touched me so dearly:

As I gaze deep into the night sky

From the window of this plane

I cannot help but remember

Remember those first few steps I took

Through the doors of 5100

Imagining a room full of little saplings

Eager to practice their English

To which I could help nurture

But instead you saw a little sapling within myself

Whom you showered with warmth and joy

Nurturing me and helping me to grow

And as these months passed by

I basked and grew from this love

And for this I will be forever grateful

And I eagerly await the day when we can meet again.

Oh students of 5100.

Thank you to all the students at IC for making this internship a truly rewarding experience.