The ‘love’ hotels hidden in Japan’s alleyways

Japan’s erotic side has been well documented.

From tales of vending machines selling women’s underwear to the mega sex toy department stores, the country is fascinating due to its amazing contrasts – on one hand it’s exceedingly well-mannered and polite, and on the other, it’s not afraid to get its kink on. And that kink extends to its accommodation offerings.

Japan’s sex hotels are a unique offering. Picture: GettySource:Supplied

Discreetly tucked away in the alleyways of Japan are 37,000 “love hotels”, with rooms that can be rented overnight, or by the hour for a sexy rendezvous. They started in the 1960s and are now widely used by everyone from young couples to married men and women indulging in affairs.

With fierce competition between the hotels, many have incorporate “themes” into their rooms. They cater to all sorts of fantasies, with decor ranging from fake subway cars and Greek palaces to religious bondage settings and pirate ships.

This picture shows a selection panel of the hotel rooms customers can choose at a love hotel called ‘The Rock Kowloon Walled City’ in Iruma, Tokyo. Picture: AFP via Getty ImagesSource:Supplied

Instead of being greeted by a receptionist, check-in is usually automated for extra privacy. Typically there is a board which shows which rooms are available. If the check-in counter is staffed by a person, the counters will be partially hidden to avoid face-to-face encounters with employees. Traditionally guests are locked in their rooms for the duration of their stay and interact with staff only by a screen or telephone.

The underwater-themed Geihinkan Love Hotel. Picture: John Lander via Getty ImagesSource:Supplied

With the competition intense, love hotels have come up with all sorts of innovative ways to compete with each other. In addition to the usual competition strategy of offering amenities like videos, rotating beds, costumes or sex toys, some have entered the realm of theme parks. Love hotel themes in Japan include the White House, UFOs, underwater sea scenes, railway cars and cruise ships.

It’s December 25 all year round at the Hotel Chapel Christmas. Picture: GettySource:Supplied

“Part of the theme trend is to make the experience more lighthearted and fun which makes the situation less embarrassing by offering up exotic or funny settings,” photographer John Lander explains.

“This renders the visit into an experience rather than a sordid affair.”

From rooms kitted out like medical clinics where couples can play “doctors and nurses” to grottoes where it is permanently Christmas (like the Hotel Chapel Christmas, pictured above), Japan’s love hotels cater to almost every taste.

Hotel Eldia in Kobe is pitched at the younger market and has rooms with air hockey tables, dart boards, and a full-size Dance Dance Revolution Supernova arcade machine. Picture: Best Delight HotelsSource:Supplied

Japan’s famously cramped living conditions and tight family ties were another reason love hotels became popular. Many of them are aimed at young couples who can easily rent a hotel room for a few hours to indulge in activities they’d rather their parents didn’t have to listen to.

One room at Hotel Eldia even comes with a slide that ends in the bathroom. Picture: Best Delight HotelsSource:Supplied

The hotels flourished in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Picture: GettySource:Supplied

Hilary Keyes at Savvy Tokyo writes that during the economic bubble period in the late ’80s, early ’90s, love hotels boomed and became almost a status symbol date spot.

“Going there with your partner was almost ritualised as a standard date course … The hotels were flourishing and the business competition was fierce,” she writes.

“A friend of mine jokingly said once that many Japanese people in their late twenties to thirties today were probably conceived during a date in one of those hotels.”

This is a jungle style room in a love hotel called ‘The Rock Kowloon Walled City’ in Iruma, Tokyo. Picture: GettySource:Supplied

According to British filmmaker Phil Cox, who made a documentary about the inner workings of the love hotels in 2014, they are now also becoming increasingly popular among tourists (particularly those who want to check in or check out outside the standard hotel hours), and as party venues.

He told The Telegraph: “They are not brothels but a space where play, fantasy and escape can be realised. They are not just for sex either, but for dressing up, karaoke, parties … some people even just book out a room to be alone.”

In this picture, from a photo series by AFP, Masayuki Ozaki puts his silicone sex doll Mayu to bed at a love hotel in Yachimata, Chiba prefecture. Picture: via Getty ImagesSource:Supplied

According to writer Katie Dundas, guests pay a flat fee for a “rest” (an hourly stay) or a “stay”, which means an overnight stay. “Soap, shampoo and condoms are generally complimentary, but you’ll also find quite a few unusual add-ons to your stay, such as adult movies, sex toys, massage devices, room service or extra towels. The hotel usually has a menu that lists all the available extras and their cost.”

Pictured here is a vintage Disney themed room, at an abandoned love hotel.Source:Supplied

Love hotels wanted to be distinguished from your standard bed and breakfast and aimed to be a place to escape the real world, offering guests a change of scenery,” writes Lisandra Moor at Tokyo Weekender. “This is where designers went all out with decor. At the height of their appeal, they were so appreciated that they were featured in magazines.”

Pictured here is The Spaceship Love Hotel.Source:Supplied

“Nowadays, love hotels have also become popular spots for hosting joshikai (girls’ parties) or serving as a photo shoot studio for cosplayers who might require a very specific type of set,” Moor says.

Hotel Alpha-In stands out from some of the cutesy options.Source:Supplied

While many of the hotels are cute and fun, some of them have a slightly darker theme. Hotel Alpha-In is heavily BDSM themed. It’s located in Azabu-juban, an area where many of the embassies are located and is thus very much loved by both Japanese and foreign residents.

The Hotel Q Sea Stork. Picture: GettySource:Supplied

The hotels are not just restricted to big cities like Tokyo. Above is The Hotel Q Sea Stork, shaped like a cruise ship, looming over a small field in Machida, Japan.

In recent years, love hotels have become places where cultures collide. While locals continue to visit them as they always have, international travellers are also booking them online without knowing quite what to expect.

The Love Hotel Zebra Picture: Getty ImagesSource:Supplied

With less restrictive rules on movement than many other countries, Japans love hotels have fared relatively well during the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, in a country where, according to government research, over 40 per cent of men and women aged 18-34 have never had sex and with its current population of 126 million forecast to plunge one-third by 2060, the nation’s multi-billion dollar love hotel industry is likely to face an uncertain future.

Indeed, many of the love hotels were converted into more “traditional” hotel accommodation in preparation for the influx of tourism over the Tokyo Olympics.

This article originally appeared on Escape and was reproduced with permission

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