One thing people in American ask me about is love hotels. Are there really love hotels in Japan that rent by the hour?
Yes, there are, and they’re weirder than you imagine.
First of all, though, I need to provide an explanation. Love hotels evolved from a practical need. People in Japan live in very small houses with many family members, often several generations between three to four rooms. If you want any form of privacy, you need someplace to go, but who wants to pay $200 per night for a hotel? That’s where love hotels come in. Yes, they can certainly be used for any tryst you want, but many married couples use them to get an hour of alone time. In addition, the attitude toward sex in Japan is much more open–large, neon-lit condom stores, pornography shops, strip clubs, etc. are commonplace. They work hard to promote safe sex, and it’s viewed as more of a need and recreational activity than something to hide. (I was rather stunned when I went to my then-boyfriend’s house to watch a movie, and my future mother in law said, “There’s wine in the fridge and condoms in the cabinet; I’m going to a bar so you have two hours!” I didn’t know what to say to that!)
Anyway, love hotels. First of all, they’re obvious. They’re huge and often shaped like things. In my suburb in Tokyo, there was one shaped like a giant flying saucer, right next to one shaped like a castle. It lit up at night. When you go in, there’s no one to greet you; you either put money in a slot or through a pneumatic tube to receive a key. You can also rent toys, lingerie, costumes; buy food and alcohol, pretty much whatever you want. The rooms are quiet and generally soundproofed well.
I’ve been to two of these hotels. First of all, let’s talk about the flying saucer. The flying saucer was definitely low-end, although like everything in Japan, immaculately clean. The room had a huge bed, shag carpeting, a monstrous TV, a shower that was a glass cube off to the side, and a mirrored ceiling. Let me tell you, if you never want to have sex again, do it under a mirrored ceiling. Some things are just not meant to be seen.
The classier love hotel I went to was “world themed,” meaning that each room was designed after a country. We got Cuba, which ended up as a sort of jungle motif. This place was much bigger, and had a karaoke machine in case you want to do naked karaoke, which of course you do. The highlight of this hotel, however, was the bathroom, which had a massive, two-person jacuzzi tub. It also had a blacklight, which, when turned on, lit up an ocean scene on the wall of whales and jellyfish. To complete the weirdness, there was a television built into the wall, which offered four options: porn, baseball, home shopping, and a movie about people playing mahjong. Porn tends to be a bit boring because, despite the photos of topless women outside clubs in plain view, genitals are censored with a pixelated cloud.
We, of course, decided that our afternoon would not be complete without watching the mahjong movie under a blacklight in a jacuzzi. The movie was hilarious: a group of men playing mahjong, with dramatic music and closeups of their shocked faces whenever anyone laid down a tile. And, immediately afterward, there was a “making of the mahjong movie” movie, so we watched that too. I have to say I’ve never really looked at mahjong quite the same way since.