Japanese Love Hotels ラブホテル
Office worker Kenji plans to meet his girlfriend Chika during lunch time. Today, he would not down some quick fast food at the cheap chain outlet close to his office. Today, he plans to take Chika out for a real meal at a real restaurant and then, they will head straight for a Love Hotel.
Kenji will have to work serious overtime later in the week but after responding with a few suggestive smirks, his boss gave him permission to leave the office for the afternoon tryst.
Kenji’s home is a cramped one bedroom rental apartment, Chika still lives with her parents. Neither place is even remotely viable for a romantic time together.
So, the two lovers meet up at the train station exit and after their lunch they head into a nearby love hotel area. Strolling down the alleys, they look at the images of the rooms offered, they calculate the prices.
Short stays of 2 or 3 hours are usually labeled “Rest” by the hotel management. Those “Rest” stays can take place at any hour of the day.
That’s what Kenji and Chika are looking for. The signboards offer overnight stays as well, typically called “Stay”. Not an option for our two lovers at the moment but they sure have that on their minds for the future.
They decide on one hotel and enter the lobby. They choose a room from an electronic board displaying images of the rooms available, Kenji enters his credit card number and the time they are planning to stay. No hotel employee is visible.
The machine ejects their plastic room key and they are now free to indulge in their private love life.
We don’t know what kind of room Kenji and Chika chose. They could go for the cheap in a plain room with not much more than a bed and a tray of condoms next to it.
More likely, though, the room comes with a very large bath, perhaps a Jacuzzi, a large TV hooked up to the internet and various movie streaming services.
Indeed, after a few exciting rounds on the bed, Kenji and Chika might just want to relax and watch a movie together. The hotel TV has plenty on offer, room service will provide the popcorn.
Mr. Yoshida’s ideas of visiting a love hotel are a bit different. He’s divorced, he runs his own business. He has money to spend and he can arrange free time for himself whenever he pleases. He might opt for the “Stay” plan or just for a few hours of fun in the daytime.
He just books himself into a room and chooses a Delivery Health girl from one of the magazines available in the lobby or in the room. Blurred out images of females fill the pages. Though their faces might not be recognizable in the advertisements, their ages and the details of their sizes are given.
Mr. Yoshida calls one of the agencies advertising and asks for the woman he chose. She may be available right now or not but he will find somebody to provide him with the release he needs.
She is most likely based near the love hotel Yoshida is staying at, it’s likely that she has to pay a commission fee to the hotel for doing her work there.
The terms of her work have already been agreed upon in the phone call between Yoshida and her agency. She will come to the room Yoshida stays at and skillfully perform the duties ordered. Though there is of course always room for a few (paid) extras.
Love Hotels provide for a basic need – a private space for people to enjoy their sex life. Young people often still live with their parents or in very tiny apartments with thin walls. The Love Hotel offers them a place where they don’t have to worry about the attractiveness of their cluttered room, the neighbors, parents or the children.
This extends not only to young couples of course but also people having some sort of extramarital affair or people needing a place to be served by a hooker. Anonymity is guaranteed at Love Hotels.
Nobody asks for any identification, contact between customers and service staff is very limited. Pay in cash feeding your money into a machine, pay some invisible staffer by sliding the cash underneath a translucent window. If you pay by credit card, great care will be taken to hide the true nature of your payment on your bill.
In Love Hotel rooms, the beds are large and the walls sound-proof. Aside from those basics, a very large variety of room designs and luxury are on offer. From more or less ordinary hotel rooms rented out by the hour to all kinds of theme rooms (featuring manga characters, European-style settings, S/M dungeons etc.) to high end luxury.
Baths are often oversized and offer plenty of features like whirlpools or steam tubs. In onsen hot spring areas, Love Hotels make good use of the local hot springs.
Today, most Love Hotels offer a large TV hooked up to the internet as well as the major movie streaming services.
Love Hotel Locations / Use by Travelers
In the past, many Love Hotels made the nature of their business clear by their design or their name (Amour, Couple’s Paradise or such). Things tend to be a bit more subtle today. Just look for a hotel that offers a “Rest” period of a few hours plus a “Stay” option for a whole night.
Love Hotels can usually be found in the vicinity of urban train stations, on the outskirts of Red Light or entertainment districts but they are also sprinkled pretty much everywhere throughout the urban cityscapes as well as the suburbs. You will even find them in fairly rural areas.
At times, Love Hotels can provide convenient accommodation for budget travelers. Either because they are the only hotel available close to their travel destination or because they typically offer overnight “Stay” options for walk-in customers in areas where regular hotels get booked out far in advance.
A late night walking tour checking the Love Hotels at your destination might get you a bed in a usually fairly luxury room to sleep in even after all online booking attempts have failed.
Remember, though, that Love Hotels are not regular hotels. You can’t leave the hotel for a meal, a concert or a meeting outside once you have checked into your room. Doing so would automatically cancel your reservation with no refund.
Love Hotel History
Families running small inns have been renting out rooms by the hour to couples in need since times immemorial.
A more recent precursor to the current Love Hotels were the tea houses on the upper floors of Edo era bath houses. There, waitresses doubled as prostitutes, providing their services in the small rooms attached to the tea houses. Outside prostitutes could also be brought in – but also secret lovers.
The Inspector Hanshichi book series set in the late Edo Period recounts many crime stories involving such secret tea house meetings, vividly describing the settings.
After World War II and especially after the prohibition of prostitution in 1958, hotels-by-the-hour really took off. Named tsure-komi (bring along) or simply motel, those hotels were the places where a lot of the conceptions took place that would lead to the births resulting in the Japanese baby boomer generation.
In 1968, a spectacular new hotel with a rotating sign opened in Osaka, Hotel Love. It not only introduced the name Love Hotel to all the hotels following in its footsteps, it also inspired a wave of decadent architectural fashion.
Throughout the 1970’s, Love Hotels tried to outdo each other by erecting fantasy-inspired buildings recreating Roman palaces, Manhattan skyscrapers or Sci-fi movie sets.
Governmental regulations introduced in the early 1980’s tried to curb those excesses. Still, plenty of great examples of grand-scale and truly wild Love Hotel architecture can be found throughout the country.
Modern development / wellness
In recent years, the promotion of many Love Hotels shifted away from the sexual aspects of their trade. Red lights, hearts and other amorous symbols were discarded and replaced with a promotion of wellness. Promises of luxurious rooms, relaxation, spas, saunas and high quality in-house food tend today to dominate the exterior advertising of many Love Hotels, especially in suburban areas.
In many cases, the lines between Love Hotels and wellness clubs get seriously blurred. Hotels in the Kabukicho District of Shinjuku, Tokyo for example, call themselves “Designer’s Hotel and Spa” and advertise as a luxury resort. Still, you can rent rooms there by the hour and use it like any old Love Hotel.
Love Hotels in Tokyo
Love Hotels can be found all over the metropolis and its suburbs. Four areas however have a particularly high density of Love Hotels. All of them are conveniently located on the circular Yamanote train line.
Kabukicho Entertainment District, Shinjuku
The former Red Light District has undergone serious gentrification in recent years. Many of the Love Hotels in the area advertise themselves today as upscale wellness and relaxation resorts.
The central part of Shibuya’s Dogenzaka neighborhood is known as Love Hotel Hill for its dense concentration of Love Hotels. You could call them generally no-frills. They all provide straight and easy service, the advertisements rarely mention anything else than prices and images of the rooms available. Some of the hotels do call themselves “resorts” but in general, they all tend to project an image of plain effectiveness.
Ikebukuro Station, North Exit
The maze of alleys outside of the North Exit of Ikebukuro Station is decidedly on the seedier side. The area houses many Love Hotels but is dominated by sex businesses, including many Soapland sex parlors, sex massage services and the like. The Cine Roman, an old-fashioned pink movie theater where at least one regular visitor routinely engages in very open but solitary sex right in front of the screen, is located there. Nobody visits the area for “wellness”. Dirty sex is the selling point there.
Uguisudani Station, North Exit
If you look for a very dense concentration of more or less traditional 1970’s style Love Hotels, take a Yamanote Line train to Uguisudani Station, one stop north of Ueno.
Walking through the alleys feels like traveling in time. There, the hotels still display hearts on their signboards, magazines exclusively promoting Delivery Health services are available from roadside racks right outside the station exit.
The hotels themselves may advertise their advanced movie streaming capabilities and their spas and karaoke facilities but in general, this is about the most traditional Love Hotel area you can find in Tokyo.
Kabukicho Love Hotel
The 2014 film Kabukicho Love Hotel, directed by Ryuichi Hiroki, provides a very interesting look behind the scenes of a typical Shinjuku Love Hotel. The paths of many people cross in the film’s little old Love Hotel… leading to plenty of unpredictable stories involving both staff and guests. Though the film itself is fiction, many of the stories told are very close to reality.
You can find the film with English subtitles on Amazon here.