Japan from the inside out

In Japan, love will find a way

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, May 27, 2007

IF YOU’RE out on the town by yourself on a Friday night in the West and encounter the girl/guy of your dreams (or a reasonable facsimile thereof), the question at the end of the night often becomes, “Your place or mine”. If one or both of you are married or otherwise engaged, it then becomes a matter of finding the closest Holiday Inn or motel (or so people tell me).

Those solutions are not an option for most Japanese, however, as many Japanese young people, particularly women, still live at home. Japan also doesn’t have the interstate highway system of the United States, and people are more likely to take a train or airplane for longer trips, so the motel industry is nonexistent.

Love will find a way, however, and in Japan that way is usually in a “love hotel”. Since the urge is eternal, the Japanese have no problem with recognizing and calling a spade a spade, so there are plenty of businesspeople looking out for the main chance. That’s why love hotels are a major industry in Japan and are found everywhere—including sedate suburban neighborhoods. I live in a quiet, older part of town, and three blocks away from my house is an establishment with a small neon sign in front announcing itself as the Hanazono (Flower Garden). Discreet as it is—the entrance and exits are hidden—everyone knows exactly what it is, and no one seems to mind. The initials NIMBY (not in my back yard), often used in the U.S. when people do not want certain facilities or enterprises in their neighborhood, don’t seem to apply here. They’re in everyone’s backyard.

They’ve been there for a long time, too. Love hotels offer rates for stays of two hours or less, or for all night, and short-stay hotels for couples have existed in Japan since the early 1600s. The forerunner of the modern love hotel was called a tsurekomi ryokan. Ryokan are Japanese style inns and tsurekomi means bring your own, and they’re not talking about bottles. These facilities were mandated by the government for the use of Occupation servicemen after WWII, when prostitution was still legal in Japan. After prostitution was outlawed in 1957, the hotels spread out, grew, and transformed into a different kind of lodging entirely.

The original tsurekomi ryokan had little or nothing in the way of amenities, including toilets or air conditioners. They were for servicemen and hookers, after all. But to stay in business after the Occupation forces left, the operators developed the modern love hotel that became a financially lucrative industry. How lucrative? Try four trillion yen a year. Statistically, there are 951 couples in a love hotel somewhere in Japan this very minute. The hotels have an occupancy rate of 260%, compared to 70% for the normal hotel. Rates are so reasonable that a room can be rented for the night at a price lower than that of a standard hotel, and there is no falloff in amenities. In fact, some tourist guides suggest that travelers to Japan looking for inexpensive accommodation consider staying in love hotels.

It goes without saying that they are discreet. The entrances and exits are hidden. Customers park in a lot that is often underground, and there are devices resembling traffic barriers or other means to hide license plate numbers from the nosy or the cameras of private detectives. There is no front desk and no cheerful staff member to greet you (or recognize you in town during the day two weeks later). Modern hotels allow customers to select a room, find it, and pay for it through a completely automated system. In the old-fashioned places, couples inform the staff by in-house telephone when they’re going to leave, and the cash is anonymously collected through a slot in the door.

Due to the number of hotels and the intense competition, hotels are often decorated using specific themes to attract visitors. Some try to capture the romance of Europe, while others try to create the mood of Greece with its view of the Acropolis. Doing the research for this article, I saw a photograph of one hotel that offered rooms with the ambiance of a “European port”. Not the area close to the docks, I hope. Some feature amenities not usually seen in the home, such as a rotating bed or a ceiling mirror. Others duplicate the sets of movies popular in Japan, such as Roman Holiday or Gone With the Wind.

In fact, the services and benefits provided by Japanese love hotels are as diverse as the Japanese imagination. Some have karaoke rooms (why?), Jacuzzis, or swimming pools. If swapping is your adventure, some hotels have adjoining rooms so you can switch back and forth. If you like to watch, some hotels have in-house video channels, but of course you’ll be watched while you’re doing the watching. Some also offer party rooms for groups, and naturally, there are S&M facilities for folks with that preference.

Believe it or not, the primary customers for love hotels are women in their 20s, so the hotels are designed and decorated with female customers in mind. The highest outlay by owners for an individual room is the bath, which of course has a Japanese style tub. They’re stocked with brand name shampoos, hair conditioners, and other beauty products to attract repeat customers. The nearby photo on the left shows a sink that the hotel says upfront was designed to appeal to women, while the one on the right shows the expense hoteliers will go to for the bath.

And they offer more than décor. Hotels often provide free drinks in the refrigerator and dinner or breakfast on the house, while others have chefs on the staff to whip up something for those who have worked up an appetite, at no charge. Then there are the bonuses. One hotel offered a free trip to Tokyo Disneyland to any couple who stayed in all 24 rooms of their rooms within six months and a free trip to Hong Kong for those that did it twice.

The amenities offered by hotels even differ by region. In the Kansai area (Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe), the love hotels tend to use free food to attract customers, while those in the Kanto area (Tokyo, Yokohama) emphasize rooms that create a specific mood or atmosphere.

And who could fail to enjoy the names of these establishments? Some of the names I found on the web include: Hotel Rose Lips, Châteaux Belle, Paradise, Casablanca, Hotel J-Mex, Hotel Liberty, Green Green, Hotel Palau, Executive Hotel Grand Garden, Hotel I-N-G, Hotel BaRong, ReStay, Hotel Laporti, Hotel Ash, Hotel Birth (maybe they ought to reconsider this), Grand Chariot, Hotel Vie-Bonheur Kobe, Hotel Wien Bel Magic (Wien is Vienna), Wimbledon (singles or doubles?), Hotel 24°C, Hotel Prelude (isn’t that part over?), and the Hotel Stellate. The latter, astonishingly enough, sells its own line of products, such as robes with the name of the hotel monogrammed on the front. Not something you’d want your wife to find in the suitcase after an overnight business trip.

If you’re thinking that the Japanese are a nation full of rabbits, however, consider these statistics. Japan usually ranks last in sexuality surveys for frequency of sex. They average 36 times a year, compared to 97 times annually worldwide. When asked what activities they prefer to sex, 20% of Japanese said sleeping and 13% said shopping. They do have a higher ranking for number of partners per person, however. Their average is 10.2, placing them seventh and above the world average of 7.7.

If you ever find yourself in Japan and want to find a love hotel on the net, there are plenty of nationwide directories, including one here and another here. If you can’t have a good time in some of these places, check into a monastery instead!

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8 Responses to “In Japan, love will find a way”

  1. Albion said


    Just when we thought you were a stick-in-the-mud political pundit, you post a detailed article on the ins and outs (pun intended) of Japanese love hotels.


  2. ampontan said

    Thanks, Albion, glad you liked it.

    Actually, I write a lot about other things (it seems to me) such as festivals, but that topic doesn’t generate much as much interest. And nobody had much to say about my post a couple of weeks ago on the original but eccentric artist Kenji Yanobe.

  3. […] great photos and a lot of background information, Ampontan explains how, despite many obstacles, love manages to “find a way” in Japan: “Love will find a way […] and in Japan that way is usually in a “love hotel”. […]

  4. […] is a nice illustrated article about Japanese love hotels in Ampontan: Japan from the Inside Out called “In Japan, Love will Find a […]

  5. albert cooper said

    \back in the day, when i was a single bloke in tokyo, i used to spend a few nights each month at the love hotels in shinjuku,after getting wasted on hot sake and shishkebab sticks and missing the last train home. so i would go over to a love hotel, pay the money, just me, single, no girl on my arm, sigh, and sleep the night away in a comfy bed, nice shower, sweet dreams, and very very quiet. must have visited 100 love hotels this way, er, back in the day. now married. can’t do it anymore. i mean, go to love hotel as single drunk…

  6. Bo Gurtho said

    I’m a 57 yr old man from the Pacific islands and I began having sex with a 30 yr old prostitute in Okinawa Japan at a “love hotel” in Kin Town. I used the same prostitute repeatedly which is quite frequent for a price of $200 for 1 hour. That sexual relationship lasted 5 months up until I transferred from the island. The prostitute sexually satisfied me and she made me do to her everything I would not do with my wife. I am guilty as hell for what I did to my wife, but its an experience I would not forget so quickly. Will I go back to Okinawa, will I use the services of a prostitute. Yes Siree! She was a great little one. My daughters are older than she, but she is a consenting adult and an expert at what she can do. Arigato Sayoko!

  7. Sam Gambrell said


    What a brave admission. You honestly inspire me, because you’re brave enough to care about what you want, regardless of what society thinks about it. I am in Okinawa right now and I thought I would ask if you had any advice on where to go to find a similar relationship to the one you found while you were here. Do you have any ideas? Would you mind keeping in contact through email?

    SG: Thanks for the note.

    This website is not a procurement agency, however, so I would appreciate it if you refrained from such notes in the future.

    Besides, that’s not the sort of thing an adult male should have a problem with finding.


    – A.

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