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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.
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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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