The best thing about a Japanese love hotel has nothing to do with sex. No. What makes a love hotel truly love-worthy is … its bathroom. I'm sorry if I've disappointed you, but sometimes all you want to do is wash off sweat rather than work up a sweat, and there's no better place to do the former than a love hotel's bathroom. It's awesome.
If you're reading this blog, you probably know what a love hotel is. If you don't know, here's a quickie explanation: a love hotel is where you go to have sex. Unless you've just spent a full day hiking, lurching up mountains, falling over rocks, getting covered in mud and being attacked by suzumebachi, all of that in killer heat and suffocating humidity. Then you just want a bath.
You don't want this bath:
You want this bath:
That first photo is a typical "unit bath" in a typical moderately priced hotel. It's so small that you can't have a bath; you have to have a shower. The shower curtain will strangle you, the toilet paper will get soggy and you will have badly bruised elbows as well as an ill temper for the next fortnight. The second photo is a Jacuzzi in a love hotel.
The real purpose – according to hype and popular belief – of a love hotel is, of course, sex. It provides couples with privacy, a scarce commodity in this country with its high-density living and generally small apartments often constructed of wood or other earthquake-friendly materials rather than sound-proof bricks. Lest you think that Japan is a giant red-light district with employees disappearing on long "lunches", let me assure you that you're wrong. I don't doubt that these buildings have seen their fair share of one-night as well as one-hour stands, but I also suspect married couples use love hotels as often as unmarried couples.
Before I visited a love hotel, I had an image based on nothing but my imagination: mirrors on the ceiling and lots of tacky red velvet. Was I ever wrong. You get that, too, but love hotel décor covers a wide range, from minimalist to ornate French baroque. The rooms are spacious, with bathrooms to die for, and it’s all surprisingly ordinary. You do get hotels that can't be described as normal by any earthling, from S&M dungeons to Hello Kitty pink froth (or both combined), but the majority is matter-of-fact, convenient and efficient.
When you go to a love hotel, there's no interaction with hotel staff. Entrances are private, for both pedestrians and cars. If you arrive by car, there’s often a direct entrance from your parking space to your room. Electronic signs show which rooms are occupied. You make your choice and simply walk in: unoccupied rooms aren’t locked. As soon as you’re inside, an electronic sensor automatically locks the door behind you. You cannot get out again unless you pay, either cash or with a credit card.
Moral of the story: do not forget anything in your car!
Each room has its own pay point. How much does it cost? A one-hour to three-hour "rest" (a misnomer if ever there was one) is ¥4000 to ¥6000, a "stay" (the whole night) is ¥6000 to ¥10 000, but prices depend on area, the day of the week and the time of the day.
I'll describe a typical room. Everything was sparkling clean. The room didn't have any windows. The bed was massive. It had a control panel that reminded me of a Boeing 747 cockpit. I thought the bed could tilt, rotate, vibrate and launch into orbit, but no: the panel controlled lights, temperature and television channels. The room was decorated in dark colours, with lots of marble, steel and glass. No ceiling mirrors. No salacious-looking toys. I didn't even see any condoms, but there was a giant box of tissues next to the bed.
|No windows! It can get a bit claustrophobic if you're used to Africa's wide open spaces.|
The only time I didn't like the room was in a hotel in Gunma: the bed had seen too much action and sagged like an ancient horse, the air con was stuck on stifling hot and ghastly New Age music played in the background … and try as I might, I couldn't figure out where to switch it off.
I had another bath, made some tea, fiddled with buttons and started wondering about love hotel workers, especially the cleaning-up staff. It's a weird job. Don’t you think?
Then I started fantasizing. No, it wasn't that kind of fantasy. You should know me better by now. I speculated that if Tokyo simply flattened all love hotels and expanded apartments to fill the available space, couples would have much more privacy at home.
Then I fell asleep on the sofa.
That's it then. That's how you spend a night in a love hotel. I'm sorry that I didn't include any X-rated details and only a small number of tongue-in-cheek references, but remember: if you want space and an awesome bathroom, especially in rural areas, consider a love hotel. They're often cheaper than standard hotels.
Edit added 26 July 2013: If you want to see photos of some of the quirkier hotels, I recommend this post. If you're interested in the history of love hotels, read this post.
|High-quality bathroom goodies|
|Another example of a love hotel room. Very ordinary, isn't it?|