(This topic is intentionally placed after sport.) To a large extent the term is a misnomer. Containing luxuriously appointed bedrooms with equally opulent and spacious bathrooms, love hotels (rabu hoteru) exist primarily for the purpose of sexual liaisons, most commonly between couples not married to each other, although it is not out of the ordinary for married couples to also treat themselves to the privacy and aural stimulation found within. The most common couple frequenting these establishments is probably a middle-aged business man and a young woman.
The love hotel industry was spawned in the 1960s, the first signs of post-war affluence providing a lucky few a little spare time and the desire to indulge it. The country’s housing shortage, and the practice of three generations living in the same dwelling with often paper thin internal walls, precluded anyone other than married couples from engaging in sexual contact, day or night, in their place of dwelling. The presence of light-sleeping parents or in-laws also tended to have a dampening effect on the ardour of legitimate marital love-making, not to mention simple husband and wife conversation, a factor car manufacturers took into account in the design and comfort of seating in the family car.
Hotels designed for the sole purpose of short-term room rental, to cater to this burgeoning lasciviousness, started springing up in clusters near train stations, expressway interchanges, city perimeters and individually in secluded treed areas, to become a common sight at these locations. Their layouts place top priority on privacy. Intended for access by car only, driveways are walled and doors or curtains automatically enclose each car in individual garages as soon as they are entered. There is no reception or check-in counter, and a door leads from each garage to a room or selection of rooms, enabling a quick and anonymous entry and exit. Windows are non-existent or painted over. An illuminated signboard contains photos of all rooms, from which a choice can be made.
Many of the hotels are purpose-built, and can range in appearance from Gothic castles to rocket launching pads, with plenty of other garish designs and nondescript structures in between. Their names, usually in English, often contain what might appear to be a double entendre, such as Pure, White House, Next, Up, Beside, Box, in signs visible from a distance so they can be easily located by motorists. Whilst their purpose might appear sleazy, they’re always clean and offer an inexpensive and interesting alternative to traditional forms of accommodation, some even with family rooms.
The bed, queen or king size, heart shape, vibrating, rotating or any other variation, is usually the focus of the bedroom, which may well be designed according to a theme, ranging from something out of science fiction, to anime stories, to a harem, often surrounded by an abundance of wall and ceiling mirrors, with a soft porn video channel standard fare for television viewing, and an ample supply of condoms plus adult products provided. Fetishist outfits, such as doctor and nurse uniforms, plus school uniforms, can be rented at some hotels. Bathrooms are often larger than those found in even five star hotels, offering more than enough plumbing facilities needed to clean the body and enjoy the process. Some hotels have a top floor penthouse suite, with an exclusive clear-bottomed open-air pool above.
Closing the room door is usually an act of no turning back, because it immediately locks and cannot be opened until payment is made. Rooms are rented by the hour, for a so-called ‘rest’ (kyūkei). A set fee applies from around 10 pm for an overnight stay (shukuhaku) until the following late-morning or midday, offering very good value to those who can wait until this late hour and have a morning to while away. Light snack food is available inside the room, but for overnight guests requiring more sustenance it’s advisable to bring in additional supplies.
Since the primary objective is privacy and anonymity, there is no reception. The method of payment varies from place to place, but there are three main types: a) by pneumatic tube, whereby cash is put in a cylinder, which is then placed in a vacuum-operated tube accessed from a small enclosure near the door. Press the shute button, the cylinder wizzes off to a never-to-be-seen office somewhere in the bowels of the building, and any change will soon come back the same way. The door then automatically unlocks; b) by an automatic cash machine; c) at a kind of reception, where the person is hidden and only a pair of hands seen.
Apart from stumbling upon cleaners, human contact outside of each room is uncommon and avoided. Rates are around ¥2,500 for two hours (¥3,000 on weekends and public holidays), going up about ¥1,000 per subsequent hour. An overnight stay usually ranges between ¥7,500 and ¥9,000 during the week – all very good value.