Before coming to Japan a few people told me I would never find a job because of my tattoo. I worried quite a bit about it at first, but as it turns out, it’s quite easy to hide a wrist tattoo and even a sleeve if needed.
My best friend who was living in Japan had told me when he came back to visit the states that I should go with him to get a free tattoo removal consultation because mine would keep me from getting a job once in Japan. He wanted to remove a red devil shoulder tattoo. After his consultation he told me something large like my full sleeve would take a lot of pain, money, and time to remove.
Even my Japanese dentist in Los Angeles told my mom there would be no chance of me finding work in Japan. If you don’t know, tattoos in Japan are associated with the yakuza.
I had no interest in removing my tattoo, a tattoo I spent a 32 hours of sweat and blood and a year of traveling back in forth to a suburb outside Nagoya to get.
My ink would not stop me. Where there is a will there is a way, my Dad named Will always says.
So where am I now and has my tattoo secret been safely kept from the employer I’ve been working for for the last 17 months?
I’ve been an English teacher at a conversation school in Tokyo now for 17 months. I’ve met over a thousand students and none of them know I have a full sleeve tattoo besides one student, and thats because I accepted his friend request on Facebook because he’s a great guy and a great dentist. Insurance does not cover cleanings here but he is giving me a 20% discount next week!
So here is how I’ve kept it hidden all this time.
Long Sleeve Shirts
The most obvious way to cover a full sleeve or a wrist tattoo is to wear a long sleeve shirt, of course. Not the most comfortable option when outside in the summer, but hopefully where you’re located summer is just a season that will soon pass.
When buying a long sleeve shirt it is important to make sure that you get one with the longest sleeves possible, without making you look goofy. Throughout the day you stretch and reach for things, which all cause the end of your shirt-sleeve to hike up just enough of your arm to expose the ink on your wrist.
Be careful of buying white or any other light color. If you have to wear a collared shirt like me it can be easy to see through the shirt, especially under bright lighting.
Also, if your wearing a dress shirt, make sure both the 2 buttons at the sleeve cuffs stay buttoned up or you risk exposure.
But the long sleeve shirt is not enough alone. That is why I always wear a ……
I own two that I bought from a local sports store in Tokyo. You can find brands like the ones in the picture above or several others with good reviews on Amazon.
Why they are so great is that they fit snug and comfortably. I’ve tried covering my wrist with a watch on a thick band but the problem is that things like watches and jewelry slide or slip on your wrist. A sweat band doesn’t.
I think whites the best. Other colors might attract unwanted attention.
While wearing the sweatband I have only been asked by three out of a thousand students in the last 17 months if I’d hurt my wrist. I just told them I hurt it in the gym lifting weights, and that was that, they never asked or brought it up again. Just tell those who ask that you hurt your wrist and change the topic and move on.
No one is going to physically examine or question you.
You can easily throw on the sweatband when you walk out the door and remove it after work and not have any trouble.
If you still want to enjoy wearing short sleeve shirts there is another option.
I bought two of these before flying to Japan. You can get them in a variety of sizes:
- full arm sleeve
- 3/4 arm sleeve
- half arm sleeve
- forearm 9 inch sleeve
- forearm 6 Inch sleeve
- wrist 3 inch sleeve
I wore them along with my wrist sweatband during my first year of work because I was super paranoid of being found out. They have served me pretty good.
The color isn’t a perfect match for my skin tone but it’s hard to notice from several feet away. Anything closer and it might look like you’re a burn victim. The reviews are pretty good.
They are surprisingly cool to the skin. You’d think it would be uncomfortable to wear under the sun but not so much.
Mine have stretched out with use. They no longer form a tight seal at the wrist and slip down my shoulder now. I use a half-sleeve now, which is sufficient when wearing a long-sleeved shirt.
Hope that helps some of you!
To learn more about my experience having a tattoo in Japan, check out: Tattoos in Japan and Girls and Work and Hiding Them