Skip to main content

Love hotels: it's not the bed, it's the bath!

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.

Pay point

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.

Control panel

Massive TV

High-quality bathroom goodies

Another example of a love hotel room. Very ordinary, isn't it?

Popular posts from this blog

Higanbana, a flower of loss and longing

I love this flower. I love all flowers, but this one, ah, this one comes packaged with the most wonderful stories. Its scientific name is Lycoris radiata; in English it's red spider lily; in Japanese it has several names including higanbana (ヒガンバナ), in other words, autumn equinox flower.

It's also referred to as manjusaka (曼珠沙華), based on an old Chinese legend about two elves: Manju guarded the flowers and Saka the leaves, but they could never meet, because the plant never bears flowers and leaves at the same time. They were curious about each other, so they defied the gods' instructions and arranged a meeting. I assume it was not via Twitter. The gods promptly punished them, as gods are wont to do, and separated them for all eternity.
To this day, the red lily is associated with loss, longing, abandonment and lost memories in hanakotoba(花言葉), the language of flowers. It's believed that if you meet a person you'll never see again, these flowers will grow along your…

Call it remorse

Something out of memory walks toward us,
something that refutes
the dictionary, that won’t roost
in the field guide. Something that once flew
and now must trudge. Call it grief,
trailing its wings like a shabby overcoat,
like a burnt flag. Call it ghost.
Call it aftermath. Call it remorse
for its ability to bite and bite
again. — Don McKay, from “Angel of Extinction,” Angular Unconformity: Collected Poems 1970-2014 (Icehouse Poetry, 2014)

Edo wind chimes: air con for your soul

Have you noticed that Japan has a thing about bells?
Watch people's phones: every second phone charm has a little bell that jingles with the slightest movement. There are bells on doors and bells at shrines and bells at temples. There are bells on traditional hair ornaments called bira-bira kanzashi, bamboo chimes tuned DFGA for your garden, bells are a symbol of peace (link) and their sound echoes the impermanence of all things (link).
From which one could correctly deduce that peace is ever transient.
Now, before I get sidetracked down a thousand rabbit holes, let’s focus on the real topic: bells, yes, but specifically wind chimes or fūrin(風鈴).

I would not to mine own self be true if I didn't include a little history lesson. Here we go:
The oldest wind chimes found at archeological sites in South East Asia are 5000 years old. These early versions were made from wood, bones and shells; and were probably used to keep birds out of cultivated fields and/or to ward off evil spirits.

Dear Dad, this one's for you

Dear Dad,

You would've been 100 years old today. I didn't do anything lawyerly on your birthday, but ... I've never told you ... but three years ago, when I was on holiday in the United Kingdom, I spent a day in the Temple area of London, visiting the Inns of Court and the Royal Courts of Justice. It was so easy to imagine you there. I would've enjoyed your company, and I wish we could've popped into a pub to talk. Or argue. Probably. Happy century, Dad. I hope you still have tennis, and rugby, and books, and a veld for a walk.

Miss you!

The daughter who was born last

Bush clover, the flower of autumn

It's a modest plant, easy to overlook, yet it used to be Japan's most beloved flower.

Bush clover (ハギ, hagi) is mentioned in 141* poems in the Manyōshū (万葉集, Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves), Japan's first anthology of poetry, compiled in the 8th century. That far exceeds the 119 poems about the second-most popular flower, plum blossoms. The latter was revered as an exotic import from China; the former was praised for its rustic simplicity.

Bush clover grows about 3 m in height and has long, slender branches that droop across paths. The branches represent feminine elegance, but it's also a symbol of vigour thanks to its ability to produce young shoots from old stock. It flowers in September, when summer's heat lingers, but it's believed that if you can see dew drops on the plant's small green leaves, you know that autumn is near.

Nowadays the flower attracts little attention. There aren't any good bush clover viewing spots in Tokyo that I know of, apart…

Hiking along the Mitake Valley in Okutama

I'm lying. Exaggerating. It's not hiking; it's walking.

As a matter of fact, the Mitake Valley Riverside Trail has given me a new definition of walking vs hiking: if you encounter vending machines along the way, it's walking, not hiking.
I've done several hikes in Okutama, but I'm going to start with this walk because anybody can do it. It's exceptionally beautiful, truly pleasant and very easy. You don't need to be an experienced hiker, you don't need hiking boots, you don't need energy drinks – or Scotch – to keep going.

It starts at Ikusabata Station on the Ōme Line, follows the Tama River and ends about 5 km upstream. It took me about two hours of slow walking, many photos, frequent diversions and arbitrary stops to enjoy the autumn colours.
Let's do this section by section. Warning: this post is photo-heavy!
Ikusabata to Sawai

It takes 90 minutes from Tokyo Station. Take the Chūō Line to Ōme, transfer to the Ōme Line and get off at Ikusab…

This is what my language sounds like

A while ago I promised I would do a post about Afrikaans songs. Oh dear. It's more work than I thought it would be, and it's aggravated by the fact that I've lost touch with contemporary culture in South Africa. (Please don't ask me about Die Antwoord. I don't get it. I don't want to get it.) So for now, while I continue my research, I've selected two golden oldies that are very natsukashii (that's a Japanese word for "dear" or "missed") to me. You'll notice the central themes that unite these songs: an abiding love for Africa, as well as loss and longing.
Quick recap: Afrikaans, my mother tongue, is a South African language developed from 17th century Dutch. It has adopted words from Malay, Khoisan and Bantu languages, but 90% of its vocabulary is of Dutch origin. Yes, I understand Dutch (with a bit of effort) and Flemish (easily). Afrikaans has about 6 million native speakers.
Tomorrow we return our focus to Japan. Tonight, son…

The Princess Who Loved Insects (updated)

My blog gets so many search keyword hits about this particular topic that I've decided to update an old post about the Japenese story The Princess Who Loved Insects(虫めづる姫君Mushi Mezuru Himegimi).

It's contained in Tales of the Riverside Middle Counselor (堤中納言物語Tsutsumi Chūnagon Monogatari), a collection of short stories written in the late Heian period. It focuses on the adventures of a young girl who refuses to make herself beautiful and play the courtship game. She doesn't blacken her teeth and pluck her eyebrows (as refined ladies did in those days); instead, she spends her time outdoors, playing with bugs and caterpillars.

I refer to her as Ms Mushi (Ms Insect).  A girl this tough is definitely not a prim prissy Miss, she's a ballsy Ms. She's my favourite Japanese heroine. She's strong, she's rebellious, she refuses to pretend, she ignores society's stupid rules that fetter women. You go, girl! Long live caterpillar eyebrows!

Donald Keene mentions in hi…

Hōzuki Ichi (Chinese lantern plant market)

I've written about this market before; this time I'm shamelessly copying an old post. The photos are new, though. ;)

Every year on 9 and 10 July a Chinese lantern market is held at Sensō-ji. "Chinese lantern" is a plant: scientific name Physalis alkekengi, Japanese namehōzuki. They have translucent orange pods that might remind you of Chinese lanterns, and they were used as a medicine for fever, gout and just about any ailment you can think of.
The temple's precinct is packed with 200 hōzuki vendors selling plants for ¥2000 to ¥2500, and wind chimes (fūrin). This year my visit was brief, because Sensō-ji has become a rather unpleasant experience. Too many tourists. Sigh.

South Africa is not a safety country (hallelujah)

I did. Smile. Nonstop. Al die pad dwarsdeur end-uit.