American with tattoos visiting Japanese Zen temples & monasteries, etc

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JMGinPDX
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American with tattoos visiting Japanese Zen temples & monasteries, etc

Post by JMGinPDX » Wed Sep 11, 2019 4:02 pm

Wondering if anyone has any insight into this...

My wife and son and I are planning to visit Japan in June 2020.
I am particularly interested in going to Eihei-Ji, and possibly signing up for the 1-night "sanzen" stay mentioned here: https://daihonzan-eiheiji.com/en/guide-sanzen.html
In addition to that, of course we will visit various temples (Zen and otherwise I'm sure), onsen, etc. as we traverse Tokyo, Kyoto, (Fukui) and hiking a few days on the Kumano Kodo.

I've been hearing that tattoos are not as socially acceptable in Japan as they are here, and I wondered how that related to Buddhist establishments in particular.
I have multiple tattoos up both arms, 2 of them are family-related (the White Rose of Yorkshire and a snippet of music manuscript), but the rest are Buddhist - the dharmachakra, "sati" in Devanagari script, the kanji for "Mu" and the text "just this," and most noticeably, Katagiri Roshi's 4-column calligraphy of the Bodhisattva Vow up both forearms (2 + 2).

[NOTE: I know that sounds like very stinky Zen, but they are more my personal practice reminders and less public announcements of some superficial fanboy interest :rolling: ]

Has anyone had experience with how that might go over, particularly if I'm trying to sit with the sangha at Eihei-Ji?
Or even visiting a public onsen (which my wife really wants to do)?

Thanks for your thoughts. The last thing I want to do is come off as some boorish, disrespectful and self-absorbed American, since we already have that deserved reputation abroad :)

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Queequeg
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Re: American with tattoos visiting Japanese Zen temples & monasteries, etc

Post by Queequeg » Wed Sep 11, 2019 4:45 pm

You're a foreigner so you aren't held to the same standards these days. That's to assure you to relax and enjoy your visit. Japan, especially where you're planning to head, is amazing. The kodo is a wonderful experience.

Tattoos are not as taboo as they used to be, at least in cosmopolitan areas. The only place where you might encounter problems is at onsen. Some explicitly say, no tattoos. Keep in mind those are intimate situations where you are naked and bathing with others. But if there is no explicit rule against tattoos in the baths, its fine. The baths, especially the ones open to tourists won't hold it against you. If you go to places that are basically for Japanese, you will face resistance, if not out right bar. In any event, in most situations, Japanese will just politely avoid you and look forward to you leaving if they are not comfortable with your presence.

At temples and shrines, the basic rule is, be presentable. Don't dress like you're on beach vacation in bermuda shorts and novelty t-shirt because you'll be treated like a person in bermuda shorts and a novelty t-shirt. Plenty of people do that, but they stand out like slobs. You'll notice Japanese are generally very presentable in almost all situation. Most places won't bar you, but remember how you're presenting yourself, especially at smaller, quieter temples where you won't just be another body in the crowd. Some shrines will have signs barring certain kinds of dress, but you might still be able to enter. You don't have to be formal, but casual pants and long sleeve (to cover the tattoos) button down shirt would be respectful.

And... modulate your voices. Observe the volume of the Japanese around you and follow their lead. Foreigners I don't think have any idea how loud they sound around Japanese who are usually soft spoken.

Have fun! Japan, especially off the beaten path, is amazing.
Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Expedient Means Chapter

There are beings with little dust in their eyes who are falling away because they do not hear the Dhamma. There will be those who will understand the Dhamma.
-Ayacana Sutta

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Queequeg
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Re: American with tattoos visiting Japanese Zen temples & monasteries, etc

Post by Queequeg » Wed Sep 11, 2019 4:48 pm

Oh, and when in a Buddhist or Shinto hall, never point your legs at the shrine/Butsudan, maintain a formal attitude of respect.
Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Expedient Means Chapter

There are beings with little dust in their eyes who are falling away because they do not hear the Dhamma. There will be those who will understand the Dhamma.
-Ayacana Sutta

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JMGinPDX
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Location: PDX, OR, USA

Re: American with tattoos visiting Japanese Zen temples & monasteries, etc

Post by JMGinPDX » Wed Sep 11, 2019 5:03 pm

Queequeg wrote:
Wed Sep 11, 2019 4:48 pm
Oh, and when in a Buddhist or Shinto hall, never point your legs at the shrine/Butsudan, maintain a formal attitude of respect.
Thank you! I appreciate your input.
I was definitely planning to mention the tattoos and take a black samue or gi with me for the Eihei-Ji visit, if they're approving, as well as regular long-sleeved shirts for temple/monastery visits. And I already try to dress appropriately and adopt the expected presentation in any temple or monastery, even in the USA :) I came from the Thai Forest tradition where pointing one's feet at the Buddha image is a no-no, so that's well-ingrained as well.

My post was partly inspired by my wife reading a travel guide that mentioned some onsen barring tattoos. I'll do my best to respect their rules.

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Queequeg
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Re: American with tattoos visiting Japanese Zen temples & monasteries, etc

Post by Queequeg » Wed Sep 11, 2019 5:07 pm

Sounds like you will be fine. It will be interesting to hear about your trip when you come back. :smile:
Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Expedient Means Chapter

There are beings with little dust in their eyes who are falling away because they do not hear the Dhamma. There will be those who will understand the Dhamma.
-Ayacana Sutta

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