Wandering Japan, you may notice hotels with signs out front offering several prices. You may see rests, stays, short stays, long stays or overnight stays on the signage along with bright neon signs on the hotel. You have found a love hotel. I may have just offended a hotel owner however. Love hotel is the old term and probably the easiest term to use as well. Business persons and more proper minded people would prefer that I call them leisure hotels, couples hotels, theme hotels, fashion hotels, or maybe boutique hotels. Those terms are also used by other types of hotels around the world so “love hotel” is still the best term in my opinion. You'll also find these in other places like South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan. If you are in Central America and Mexico, the term is “autohotels”.
Inside the door, in what would otherwise be a hotel lobby, you'll probably find a menu wall. It's like a big vending machine only you are getting a room instead of a candy bar. This wall will have lots of photos of rooms, some of them are lit up and some are darkened. If it is lit up and visible, the room is available right now. Push the button next to the photo. Hand over the cash and a faceless shadowy person behind the smoky dark glass gives you the keys to the room you selected. That's it. You are on your way to a room in a love hotel.
Sound sordid? Not really. Is it some dark underground market? No. Are the floors sticky like an old theater just off Times Square? No. The fact is that in Japan, dwellings are tiny and there may be many people or multiple generations living in a small space. The walls may be just rice paper. Privacy just isn't found in abundance if at all. So many years ago, love hotels starting popping up all over. You pay for the room for the time that you need it and no more. This allowed married couples to have time to themselves. Of course, other relations would use them too. Sex seems to be accepted as more of a fact of life in Japan than it is in the west. And love hotels usually only allowed a man and a woman into a room.
Business hotels in Japan are very expensive. Love hotels are usually reasonable and some may even say cheap. Some of them are just nice hotel rooms. Some have more mirrors than normal, large TVs with Karaoke, a bathtub and a bed. Those are the basics but it has been taken to all new levels over the years. Whatever you can imagine good and bad, dirty and twisted, it has probably been done with a love hotel. From bumper cars to swings and mini-Hollywood like sets, you can find it and fulfill your fantasies in them. I won't go into any details here but if you can order certain kinds of toys from room service and have a cash machine in your room, you know where you are.
For some great down time entertainment, look for the love hotel diaries in your room. These are little books left in the room for customers to write notes and messages to one another. They may be written by anyone that had the room which could be university girls, older married couples or men on business.
Love hotels started out with guys in mind. Just think back to the 1970s. The designs were basic and not very feminine. Now the business realizes that you have to attract the female and the guy will always follow. The designs are getting better and amenities are greater. The rooms are cleaner with nicer bathrooms. More upscale touches are everywhere. This change benefits everyone however, not just women. I like a clean bathroom!
It is big business. Both for locals who use it as intended and tourists who just have to experience it once. Imagine flipping a room every few hours instead of just once a day? The rent is adjusted accordingly of course. You don't have it for the night and you can't come and go as you please. You pay one price to get in and you pay again if you come back. It is important to know the rules in advance. You pay for the time you used. You should also take off your shoes before entry of the room.
Despite their improvement and going more mainstream, the number of old love hotels is declining. New big theme park places are built on the edge of cities. Contracts limit the ability to transfer ownership of old love hotels as well so they may just close down when an owner dies instead of going to the next generation. Many of them were built above cemeteries since land is at a premium. No one wants to live above a cemetery but a love hotel? Yes. Overall the numbers of love hotels are in a massive decline. There are less than half as many as in the 1980s. The long standing turmoil in the economy in Japan probably hasn't helped.
The rates are higher in the evening and late at night. If you can spend your time in a love hotel in the morning to mid afternoon, you'll pay a fraction of the later rate and save some cash.
I had a couple of good resource websites I wanted to list here but they seem to have gone away. I can only find dead sites and broken links so the subject is one that you just have to have your feet on the ground and be there when you need the room. You can't really plan a trip to these places in advance. LovehoMap, mostly in Japanese, can be useful if you can figure it out.
The closest the big hotel chains get to this business is to fill your TV with pay per view options and then not talk about all the extreme money they make off of it. But that's another story.
Osaka has many great options if you are looking. The best love hotels tend to be around here. There are four popular areas: Umeda, Namba, Ikutamateramachi, and Sakuranomiya.
Here are just some hotels to look for if you are so inclined. As mentioned before, love hotels are not something you book ahead of time for a vacation so they don't have websites like I wish they did. These are some of the bigger names and most likely to still be around for a while as others come and go. You can do searches for any of these and find more photos online. Because I run a family site here, I just can't post some of the photos that should be seen by interested travelers.
Osaka, Tennoji-ku, 5-5-15, Tel. (06) 6761-0168
Adonis is theme heavy with all it's rooms. From S&M to cartoon characters, you can have dreams or nightmares.
Osaka, Tennoji-ku, Ikutamateramachi 4-4, Tel. (06) 6772-1414
It's what this named hotel used to be but it still deserves mention. There's a big red 70's Cadillac on the roof that's been converted into a bed, Guests can use it for free for forty minutes. Gang Snowman is located close to Namba and just a 5 minute walk south of Shitennoji Station on the Tanimachi subway line.
Osaka, Tennoji-ku, Uehonmachi 5-5-12, Tel (06) 6762-6338
A nice modern hotel, typical except for the merry go round in one of the rooms.
Osaka, Chuo-ku, Dotonbori, 2-3-14, Tel. (06) 6211-5199
This is famous for the basket chair room. It is a chair hanging from the ceiling with a hole in the bottom of it. Although you can buy this stuff for your private home nowadays, it all starts somewhere and that somewhere is probably in a love hotel in Japan.
Osaka, Chuo-ku, Dotonbori 2-4-11, Tel. (06) 6212-4615
A love hotel to love. Only here can you can find a bed with a cage around it, torture chambers, Hello Kitty, Winnie the Pooh and Mickey Mouse. I bet those big corporate folks love that.
Little Chapel Christmas (two locations)
Osaka, Kita-ku, 11-5 Doyama-cho, Tel. (06) 6365-7750
Chuo-ku, Nihonbashi 1-9-18, Tel. (06) 6212-7322
It is Christmas every day and you can relive the most romantic moments over and over again in a room here. This is definitely a place designed to appeal to women more than men with tasteful decor and old fashioned beds.
This area east of Umeda is a bit more run down than the others. Many of the places are cheap but that also means old. It may not be the place to take your romantic getaway.
Osaka, Miyakojima-ku, Nakanomachi 1-12-18, Tel. (06) 6353-3760
This is an upscale modern hotel with a pools, billiard tables, bumper cars and more.
The love hotel area is near Shin-Kobe station.
You need to just walk around and find something that strikes you. There isn't as much that stands out here as in Osaka. Shibuya's Love Hotel Hill is the most famous area in Japan due to sheer numbers of people.
Tokyo, Shibuya-ku, Dogenzaka 1-17-9, Tel. (03) 3780-3211
Kinky fun for groups or lots of people in some of the rooms.
P&A Plaza II
Tokyo, Shibuya-ku, Dogenzaka 2-26-12, Tel. (03) 3780-0023
The second Plaza is more refined and appealing to women than the first.
Sagamiko Elizabeth Sekitei
Kanagawa-ken, Tsukui-gun, Fujinomachi, Hizure 1680-1, Tel. (0426) 87-4001
This is a replica of the HMS Queen Elizabeth II and is one of the most famous of love hotels in Japan. Nautical themes are popular here of course.
Tokyo, Shibuya-ku, Dogenzaka 2-26-2, Tel. (03) 3780-6211
If you love modern art while taking a rest…
Hotel The Rock
Gunma prefecture, Takasaki-Shi, Kamisanomachi 1095-3, Tel (027) 325-6969
Did you ever dream of romance in a prison? Well you can pay for it here. Lots of rock and a warden to greet you.
The numbers are in decline but the demand is still there and always will be part of human nature. So to be like a local in the 1980s and 1990s, put your sunglasses on, pull your hat down and take a peek inside one of the hotels. And if you are up to it with company, take a rest while you are there.
Have you ever been to a Japanese love hotel? Please share your thoughts and (clean) experiences if you have.