My husband and I visited a love hotel last night. I know this might sound rather seedy to a Westerner, but let me explain.
Love hotels are a Japanese institution. They have been around for about 50 years, in fact, the first love hotel opened in Osaka in the 1960s, but now they are everywhere in Japan, in multitude, and it is completely mundane to visit one (pretty much everyone has).
Even though the name might suggest otherwise, love hotels are not brothels. Japanese companies generally come up with some pretty impressive advertising but are not quite as adept when English is used. In addition to ‘love hotel’ a good example of a bad slogan is a department store in Japan advertising its sale as: Fuckin’ Sale – they probably considered ‘fucking’ as cool, catchy and highly frequent in colloquial English, but had misunderstood the meaning, connotations and (to some extent) the use of the word. Come to think of it, I suppose a love hotel could have used the department store’s slogan but maybe that would have been a bit much.
So a love hotel, despite its linguistically questionable name (from the perspective of native English speakers), is in essence really just a hotel for short stays.
The key selling points of love hotels (and at the same time the biggest differences) between love hotels and normal hotels are:
- The length of stay – Rooms in a love hotel can be booked not only for the night, but also for shorter periods of time, like for three hours or one hour (or maybe even shorter!) depending on how much ‘rest’ you want.
- Privacy – For instance, you would not also find a receptionist at a love hotel lobby. Instead, you select the room and the length of time needed by using a vending machine in the lobby of the hotel. Neither would you pre-book a love hotel over the phone or online. You simply walk in and get a room.
As you might have guessed, one customer group of love hotels is prostitutes and their clients, but importantly, prostitutes are not the only type of guest to frequently use love hotels. ‘Normal’ people who do not work in the adult entertainment industry also use love hotels. These can be divided into two main groups. First, many people who want to discretely or secretly meet up (read: lovers) use love hotels for their private interactions. Second, husbands with their wives or boyfriends with their girlfriends, who do not need to meet up secretly, frequently use love hotels. This second group visits love hotels because many Japanese homes are (a) very small, (b) often have several family members sharing the same room, and/or (c) are badly sound-insulated so that family members can hear each other… I don’t know…say… fart in the next room. I don’t mean to suggest that married couples go to love hotels in order to let it rip in private, but to do something even more private that they do not want their parents, in-laws or children to witness.
But love hotels are ultimately just hotels, and although alternative rooms with school girl themes or S&M gear can be found, in most cases the rooms are relatively nice, clean and comfortable normal hotel rooms. So, for instance if you are on a fishing trip with your mate and can’t find a standard hotel, you can always spend the night in a love hotel. No-one will come and check whether you are getting frisky with your buddy or just chilling there with a movie and some cock porn…erm….that didn’t come out right. I meant popcorn.
The privacy aspect of love hotels is taken to extremes. First, in addition to the lack of receptionists, there are no windows or spaces where people from outside the hotel could see you. Or if there are windows or open spaces they are frosted or covered (see photo below).
Second, the entrance and exit are often different. This means that the chances of you and your lover bumping into your husband/wife with their lover on your way in/out is minimal. Also, husbands/wives or boyfriends/girlfriends who go to a love hotel with their spouse/partner do not really want the rest of the world to know that they are booking a room for an hour as the implication of that is rather explicit. I mean, the whole point of them going to the love hotel is so that they could spend some intimate time so that no one knows about it.
Third, the lifts do not stop in between floors when there is someone in them. This is to avoid having to share a lift with your work colleague, school mum/dad, student, or your spouse when visiting a love hotel (unless you arrived with them).
Fourth, the rooms are equipped with a lot of essentials for those occasions when you visit a love hotel with little pre-planning. There you find your usual shampoos, cleansing milks, and toothbrushes, but in addition condoms, mints, mouthwash, eye masks (I am not sure whether these are meant for sleeping or if they are part of some kind of gimp outfit) and a vending machine vending fake eye lashes, fake nails, hair accessories, tights and other objects that might have got damaged during the visit. So effectively you can walk out of a love hotel looking the same as when you walked in there.
Since love hotels are such a Japanese thing to do, out of interest, my husband and I went and visited one.
We got a recommendation from a friend and on Saturday night headed to the hotel. It was only about 400m from our apartment in the busy Shinsaibashi area of Osaka. We were quite scared because we didn’t really know what to expect, how to get a room, what the etiquette was, and what were we suppose to do if we bumped into somebody there.
We got to the hotel, stood outside for a couple of seconds deciding whether to walk in or our turn around and walk away with our tails between our legs. Love hotels are clearly marked from the outside, so everyone around you will know what the name of the game is if you walk into one of the hotels. It was a busy city centre road, so there were several cars and pedestrians around and we felt a little ashamed, but eventually plucked up the courage and went in. Before we did so though, my husband insisted that we do things properly and so bought some sake from a local shop to take that in with us.
In the lobby we found a reception desk and on it was a vending machine. Since my husband and I can’t read Japanese we had to guess what we were getting, and pressed one random button. I was hoping the room we chose didn’t come with any extras, like train carriage decor (this seems to be a typical Japanese man’s fantasy). The vending machine gave us a key with our room number on it.
Next to the vending machine was another machine. We assumed that we’d have to pay for the room beforehand (given that the lobby was unmanned) and put the room key in the other machine. It didn’t like our key and spat it out.
We were there standing in the foyer confused, and worried that some other punters would walk in while we were taking our time getting the room sorted. Eventually, we decided to go to our room and see if we could get in (with our key) before having paid for the room – maybe that’s what you do, i.e. pay afterwards so that you don’t have to guess the length of time you’ll be needing.
The room door opened with our key. Phew! It looked like a normal hotel room – no train carriages or S & M stuff, no prostitutes or even glittering disco balls.
The room was clean and smelled pleasant. We found the vending machines, the condoms, mints, and something we weren’t quite sure what it was (see photo below).
We also discovered that in addition to the news and Madagascar II there were several adult entertainment channels that were included in the room price. We struggled to decide between the news and Madagascar II.
The fact that we hadn’t paid worried us, namely, we were worried that some yakusa (Japanese mafia) guy would bounce in to the room at any moment to demand payment for the room. Luckily, no yakusa came.
Next to the bed there was a kind of ‘control panel’ with a vast array of buttons on it and my husband thought it would be a good idea to start pressing them. Luckily they mostly seemed to affect the lights/music in the room but I have to say I was worried that pressing those buttons meant that there would be a prostitute on the way or a plate of noodles or perhaps a prostitute with a plate of noodles.
When we were on our way out, walking along the corridor from our room to the lifts, we saw a member of staff further down the corridor. He saw us and quickly backed into a broom cupboard. I felt really sorry for him in the cupboard given that it took forever for the lift come, but I assume that the staff has to frequently take refuge in all sorts of places for the benefit of the guests’ privacy. Come to think of it, there were quite a few big plants scattered around the lobby and the corridors. I’m sure those have saved a face or two.
When we got to the lobby my husband and I headed to the pay machine but before we could reach it a female member of staff appeared from a room behind the reception and came and help us with the payment. She looked friendly but she didn’t say anything or really even look at us. We thanked her and sheepishly walked off. I assume they had seen in their CCTV that we had struggled to figure out the procedure of room booking and payment. This means that they had seen us… no – not do anything dodgy…but to take photos of the lobby, lifts and corridors. I’m hoping that the hotel staff was convinced that we were there solely for research purposes.