TOKYO: From rooms kitted out like medical clinics where couples can play “doctors and nurses” to grottos where it is permanently Christmas, Japan’s “Love Hotels” cater to almost every taste, offering a few hours of reasonably priced privacy in a crowded country.
And with the kind of occupancy rates that most hotels can only dream of, even during economic hard times, they are an almost recession-proof business, and a sector that is sure to see a bump over Valentine’s Day.
One weekday lunchtime at Two-Way, one of many Love Hotels in the lively Tokyo district of Shibuya, only two of the 34 rooms are vacant.
“At this time of day it will be mostly couples having affairs,” said Masakatsu Tsunoda, who has been in the business for 15 years and has owned the place for five. “In the evening it will be mostly younger people.”
The concept of a Love Hotel is simple: rooms can be taken for the night, or for two hours—euphemistically termed “a rest”, although few couples taking this option intend to sleep.
“Ideally, you would have a room occupied four times in 24 hours,” says Tsunoda. “Once in the morning, once in the afternoon, again in the evening and then for the night.”
Even the most basic room comes with an ensuite bath, and with a starting price of around 7,000 yen ($70) for the night, it represents good value for money in a country where accommodation can be expensive.
A little bit of couple time during the day can be bought for as low as 2,000 yen.
At the higher end, a room will have luxury sheets, the latest flat screen television—complete with a limitless supply of adult entertainment—a game console, perhaps a mirrored ceiling and a deep bubble bath with room enough for two.
In between are rooms to suit every imaginable taste, some more typically kinky, with an array of gags, whips and leather, and some designed to indulge an altogether more innocent fantasy, such as those with a Star Wars theme or done up to resemble medieval European castles.
“They’re not only places for people who are unmarried or live separately, but they are places where you can spice up your relationship,” one occasional user told Agence France-Presse.
A chance for privacy
Anonymity is assured and discretion—never in short supply in Japan—is absolute.
A couple can often check in and out without once seeing an employee. Their room choice can be made from a display in the lobby, paid for at a machine with keys dispensed through a small window.
Staff, when they do appear, are polite, but neutral, doing their best to blend into anonymity and instantly forget the faces they see.
Academic Ikkyon Kim, who has written on the subject, said Love Hotels came about during Japan’s feudal era, which lasted until the mid-19th century.