Breaking the rules |

Breaking the rules

Renee ShadforthSign in front of the fitness room in the Gifu Renaissance Hotel alerts patrons that they cannot be drunk, younger than 18 or have tattoos.

If my first hours in Japan were any indication of what’s to come, I’m going to leave this place 15 pounds heavier.

Usually in a 24-hour period I get an eight-hour break from eating – called sleep. But between breakfast at the airport, meals on the airplane and dinner with a few of our new Japanese friends when we arrived at our first hotel, it has been a non-stop eating, eating and more eating.

So when I woke up at 5:30 in the morning on my first morning in Japan, I decided to take advantage of the hotel gym.

When I got to the gym, it was empty. Japanese soft rock with muted lyrics played over the speakers, and there wasn’t a soul in sight. The gym opened at 6 a.m., but as I walked toward the room with treadmills and free weights, I felt sneaky, like I was breaking the rules and shouldn’t have been there.

After signing in at a table at the fitness center’s entrance, I noticed a sign that gave the basics: hours of operation, who could use the gym, etc. Then, it listed who is not allowed inside:

“We do not accept: -tattooed person -drunk person -person under age of 18”

I didn’t fall into the second or third categories, but the first group … I had been a card-carrying member since age 17. Fortunately, I’m not the sports-bra-and-no-shirt type, so with my T-shirt secured over my small tattoo on my abdomen, I broke the rule and entered the fitness center.

I had heard of the “tattoo culture” in Japan before, so the “No tattooed person allowed” thing didn’t surprise me too much. Tracy said usually if a Japanese man has tattoos, he is in the mafia. I have heard of younger businessmen getting tattoos in recent years, too. Much like the United States used to be – before body art became as mainstream as it is today – younger people in Japan get tattoos oftentimes to be rebellious.

Tracy tells me that when we go to visit hot springs – where nudity is not optional, it’s a must – I will have to cover my tattoo with my arms or a towel until I’m safely submerged in water.

Funny thing is that I never got my tattoo to be defiant to my parents or society; my dad took me to get my tattoo when I was 17. However, as I hide it from people at the gym, bathhouses or hot springs, I get a newfound feeling of rebelliousness.

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