Japan’s love hotels, run for amorous couples who want to pay by the hour, are an absolute boon in a country where privacy is rare. In a typical apartment building, rooms might not be divided by anything thicker than cardboard, and walls often seem designed to amplify sound rather than dampen it. Traditionally, Japanese families live and sleep in the same room, making intimate liaisons doubly difficult.
Although establishments for the same purposes exist in the West, they have a completely different image. Japan’s love hotels, also known as fashion or boutique hotels, are used by couples of all ages and backgrounds, and are most impressive for staying the socially-acceptable side of seedy.
The first accommodation provided explicitly for nookie emerged after WWII. Many of these ‘tsurekomi yado’ (“bring-along inns”) were spare rooms rented out by families needing extra money. Their primary customers were prostitutes until 1958, when new decency laws forced the sex trade underground, and the rooms were aimed at couples instead. Since then, entrepreneurship and innovation has crept through the industry, attracting increasingly sophisticated clientele and creating the gaudy love hotels we see today.
The Love Hotel Experience
Whichever Japanese city you?re in, finding a love hotel isn’t difficult. Urban skylines are filled with neon, faux-Western names (‘Hotel California’, ‘Belles Des Belles’) and occasionally incredible exteriors, including hotels designed to look like ships or castles.
Love hotel designers and managers take great efforts to ensure the privacy and anonymity of their guests. Upon entering the lobby, you browse a bank of pictures on the wall (lit means vacant, dark means currently occupied), push a button to select your love nest, and push another to choose whether you want a ‘rest’ (a few hours) or a ‘stay’ (overnight). Check-in is handled almost entirely without human contact until you collect your key from a pair of disembodied hands at the counter. Increasingly, payment is also handled automatically, removing any potential embarrassment from the experience.
The rooms themselves vary greatly. Some are merely functional, the complimentary condoms being the only sign you’re not staying in a business hotel. However, many offer theme rooms, ranging from Parisian boudoirs to tropical beach huts to S&M dungeons. Rooms might include TV, karaoke, a Jacuzzi, or even a vibrating bed or a full-length mirror on the ceiling. Increasingly, hotels are focusing on the preferences of women, becoming increasingly clean, cute and friendly. As a result, their respectability is also increasing – visiting a love hotel doesn’t seem to be a source of shame, though maybe it depends who you go with.
Leaving the hotel is even more low-key than the entrance. Separate entrances and exits are sometimes provided for couple who wish to leave separately – if an acquaintance spotted you emerging from a love hotel on someone’s arm, it’d be very difficult to persuade them nothing saucy had been going on.
- ‘Love hotels: Where have all the mirrors gone?’ (Japanzine)
Detailed article including profiles of quirkier love hotels
- ‘Between a rock and a soft place’
Includes detailed history of love hotels and an interview with a love hotel expert
- ‘No room at Japan’s Love Hotels at Christmas’ (BBC News)
- ‘Soaplands and love hotels’ (Salon.com)
Focuses on Japanese sexuality in general
- Love hotel (Wikipedia)
- Lodging in Japan: Love hotels
An entertaining foreign experience of four different hotels
- The Lost Dreams of Love Hotels
Focuses on the decline of originality and character of love hotels
- A not so intimate encounter with a Japanese love hotel (Asian Sex Gazette)
“Love motels are a way for couples to grab some space and private time for themselves without worrying about the kids or grandparents barging in.”