Love Hotel

A love hotel in Himeji

This love hotel in Himeji has a Christmas theme all year round

Love hotels can be found all over Japan and, as their name suggests, exist primarily to allow couples to have some private time together. While the concept of hotel rooms intended more for love-making than for sleeping may seem distasteful to Westerners, in Japan they’re just matter-of-fact practicalities. Young people often live with their parents well into their twenties, and grandparents sometimes move in with their children once they’re retired, so couples have good reason for wanting a bit of extra privacy now and again.

A love hotel sign

Often the only clue that a hotel is a love hotel is that it displays separate prices for ‘rests’ and ‘stays’

The key feature that distinguishes a love hotel from an ordinary hotel is not what people get up to in the rooms (let’s face it – people do that in regular hotel rooms too) – it’s that love hotels rent rooms for two or three hour ‘rests’. Peak hours are evenings, which means that good deals can be obtained for overnight ‘stays’ if you arrive after about ten. (Most love hotels display separate prices for rests and stays outside, sometimes dynamically updating these depending on the time of day, and on how busy they are.)

A panel showing available rooms in a love hotel

In some love hotels, you can choose your room by pressing a button next to a picture showing what it’s like inside

What makes a stay at a love hotel special is the efforts that many of them make to liven up their guests’ experiences. While some are in ordinary, dull, concrete buildings, others have gaudy, fantasy exteriors – built to look like European castles, or painted in bright colours and adorned with neon lights and love hearts. Entering the lobby, there is often a panel on the wall with photos of the rooms – those currently vacant will be lit up. Take a good look at these – as the more upmarket love hotels have a wide range of themed rooms – and not everyone will appreciate staying in a dungeon where chains and shackles descend from the ceiling, or a room where all the walls are mirrors. Once you’ve pressed a button to make your selection, a key may emerge from a slot, or the room door may open automatically (it will lock shut once you’ve entered the room and closed it – not a problem as you don’t normally go out of the room until it’s time to leave).

At some love hotels you just check in with a receptionist like normal, but generally contact with staff is kept to a minimum, and the receptionist is often hidden behind a frosted-glass window. There’s no need to give your name or address when you arrive – your stay will be completely anonymous – once you leave there will be no record of you having been there. Sometimes you even pay your bill using an automatic machine. (At the most high-tech establishments, the door won’t open to let you leave until you’ve inserted the right amount of money – so make sure you’ve got enough cash on you before you go in.)

Hello Kitty bondage room

A Hello Kitty themed bondage room, at the Adonis love hotel in Osaka

The range of rooms available is evidence of the fantasies and fetishes of Japan’s population. There are mock hospital wards, churches, trains and pirate ships, the walls are sometimes decorated with garish cartoon characters, or a giant Hello Kitty may be mounted on the wall above the bed. Some hotels even have a catalogue of cosplay outfits available for rent – so if it’s your dream to dress up as a bunny rabbit, cheerleader, bride, or French maid, now’s your chance to make it come true. If that’s not enough to make your day, then maybe the circular rotating waterbed, or the heart-shaped Jacuzzi will be. The mini-bars are stocked with sex toys in addition to the usual range of drinks, and if you get hungry room service is on hand. Most rooms have no windows, so once inside you’re in a private world for the duration of your stay – completely sealed off from the noise, stress and daily grind of the world outside.

Other facilities available may include a karaoke machine, a big screen TV, and a selection of DVDs. It might seem that this leaves a lot to fit into a fairly short stay, but you should bear in mind that sometimes couples use love hotels just to hang out and have some private time together, rather than to indulge in carnal recreation. Love hotels are found all over Japan – out in the suburbs as well as in the centres of big cities – they’ve become such a staple of life in Japan that many Japanese find it hard to believe they don’t exist overseas.

A love hotel room with a karaoke machine

This love hotel comes complete with an ensuite karaoke machine

While it’s not generally possible to reserve rooms, love hotels are so numerous (there are more than 30,000 nationwide), that you’re almost certain to find a free room somewhere without too much trouble. Prices for an overnight stay vary greatly depending on the location of the hotel, and on what special features the rooms have, but are typically around ¥6,000 to ¥10,000. Two of the best (though certainly not the cheapest) are the P&A Plaza in Tokyo’s Shibuya district, where you can choose between a swimming pool and a cave bath, and Snow Man’s in Kobe, which has an open-air room on the roof.

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