Sunday, 18 April 2010
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Lovers Anonymous
February 13, 2010

Japan’s love motels have made a fine art of providing privacy.

Love for sale
Appetizing young love for sale
Love that's fresh and still unspoiled
Love that's only slightly soiled
Love for sale


So go the lyrics to Cole Porter's classic song, Love For Sale.

Tomorrow is Valentine's Day in Japan and the ubiquitous love hotels will be full from the afternoon through the evening, possibly into Monday morning. A love hotel, you ask, what's that? It's a Japanese institution for amorous couples. As the name implies, it is for short-term romantic trysts and you pay by the hour – no photo ID, face-to-face front desk check-in, guest registration, or credit card required. Purely fast and anonymous check-in.

After several requests, I found one Osaka hotel manager who reluctantly agreed to talk with me and answer some questions, providing I didn't use his full name or disclose the hotel that employed him. That seemed reasonable to me. Love hotels are legitimate and well-visited but still....

As Mr. Tanaka explained during our five-minute conversation in hushed tones in a side hallway, "With Japan's small apartments, two or three generations of a family living together, and the high cost of renting a place on their own, many single couples need a place to escape to enjoy each other."

“Couples”, huh? So I had to ask, are gays and lesbians customers too? This innocent question both startled and amused him. "Well", he paused, "same-sex couples are discouraged, if not banned, from using most love hotels. We have security cameras showing who is coming and going."

Love hotels are usually clustered around major shopping and mass transit areas and are easy to spot; you would never confuse them with a conventional hotel. They have menu boards outside that give the prices, always with a “Rest” quote and a more expensive “Stay” (re: overnight) quote. They often have discreet entrances and exits with lots of tall, potted plants, walls, and privacy lanes so as not to draw too much attention to the customers entering and exiting.


Love hotels are able to satisfy the whims of their customers at their convenience.

Love hotels are able to satisfy the whims of their customers at their convenience.

I asked Tanaka-san what the first-time visitor needs to know about how to get a room. "Once inside the lobby, you'll see a back-lit board showing photos of all the rooms, the room number, and the price, which varies according to room size and amenities. If the photo is lit, it's available. You press a button, the photo light dims, and you and your date take the elevator to your floor and walk into the now-unlocked room. We rarely ever have any problems. Japanese can understand, I think. Maybe they ask a friend if it's their first time."

It's all anonymous and you never see or talk with anyone in the lobby. Inside the room at minimum, you'll find a refrigerator with drinks both with and without alcohol, a nice flat screen TV, karaoke machine, video game console, Jacuzzi, 500-channel commercial-free radio system, porn movies on-demand, lots of mirrors, a queen or king-size bed, bathrobes and slippers, small vending machine featuring – ahem – “accessories” and lotions, gels, etc., suitable for sexual activities, and room service in some of the nicer love hotels.

After you have had your hour or hours of fun, you call the front desk to check out, go down and pay through a small window (neither the customer nor the clerk sees the other's face) and go out the exit. Newer hotels have pay-in-the-room machines where you simply insert paper bills and take your change.

My final question for Tanaka-san, "Have you had any memorable incidents during the time you've worked here?"

Smiling, he admitted, "A few years ago I had to handle an emergency. An old man died in the room and his young female friend had to get us involved with the ambulance and police. I think it was a bigger deal for her than for me. I felt sorry for her, to be honest. My work days are quite routine here otherwise. We're just another business, right?"

A booming business on Valentine's Day anyway. So, for your Valentine, a nice dinner, maybe a drink or two at a lounge, and then slip off to a nice love hotel for a few hours "rest". Or just "stay" the night if you have nobody to account to.


GN also blogs at Japan Explained



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