Japan's Strange Love Hotels

These seedy spots aren't exactly what you expect when you think "Japan"

Tokyo Neon Signs
Robert Schrader

A millennia-old writing system, an obsession with being on time and a penchant for wearing suits outside of business hours. No matter which way you slice it, the Japanese have a reputation for being conservative – and that's precisely why the existence of so-called "Love Hotels" throughout Japan is so puzzling.

That's not to say Love Hotels aren't Japanese in their own right: They're more cute and curious than candid, to say nothing of the clandestine place of prostitution (and sex in general) within Japanese society. Want to take a closer look inside?

What is a Japanese Love Hotel?

Known as "ラブホテル" or rabu hoteru in Japanese, Love Hotels make no attempt to hide their primary purpose: A discreet place for lovers to meet. The decoration of Japanese Love Hotels is often flamboyant, featuring bright neon signs, colored (but transparent) windows and awkward, translated names such as "Grace Residence Crystal Castle" or "Virtue House Diamond Palace."

If that doesn't set your heart on fire, the good news is that love hotels are a proverbial fling more than a marriage. The majority of guests who stay in Love Hotels in Japan rent them by the hour – and you don't have to be a Japanophile to see why. You can also rent Love Hotels by the hour for the purpose of sleeping (休憩, kyuukei or "stay" in Japanese), but this is typically only an option from 10 p.m. or so, while lovers may use Love Hotel facilities 24 hours per day.

Where Can You Find Japanese Love Hotels?

Due to their primary purpose – and thus, the need for high turnover – Japanese Love Hotels tend to be located in large Japanese cities, often in business districts or near railway stations. In Tokyo, for example, you can find many Love Hotels in Kabukicho, a nightlife and entertainment district just a short walk away from busy Shinjuku station. The same is true in Osaka, where many are clustered near the popular Dotonbori pedestrian street, while in smaller cities love hotels are more interspersed and can thus be more difficult to locate.

If you can't read Japanese, discerning a Love Hotel's located amid other kitschy Japanese neon signage can be difficult. Asking around won't really help either – the Japanese don't consider speaking about Love Hotels to be "proper," going back to the conservatism inherent in Japanese society. Ultimately, the best way to located a Japanese love hotel is to walk in high traffic areas of big cities and look for the obvious markers mentioned above. With this being said, there are some potential pit falls for this strategy of staying in a Japanese love hotel, as you'll see in the next few paragraphs.

Love hotels also exist outside of Japan. Recently, they created a splash in the media when two stranded Hainan Airlines passengers—total strangers—were booked together in at a love hotel in Chongqing, China. That must've been an interesting stay, to say the least. 

Can You Stay in a Japanese Love Hotel?

Love Hotels are for lovers, by design, so the most, um, fulfilling way to stay in a Love Hotel is to go there with a, um, partner and...yeah, you get it. Making love in a Love Hotel is not the only way to sleep in one, however, nor the only reason you should want to – the ubiquity of Love Hotels is making them a sought-after experience, although you should note: 1) English is not often spoken within Love Hotels, either in signage of by the staff and 2) Some love hotels actually turn away non-Japanese travelers.

 

Although many who stay in Japanese Love Hotels are lovers renting rooms by the hour, you can stay a full night in many Love Hotels throughout Japan. Traditionally, Love Hotel rooms are sold on a "first come, first served" basis, but increasingly, you can book select Love Hotels online, which is a great way to avoid disappointment if you've got your heart set on staying in one. This also helps you avoid discrimination for not being Japanese, since you'd have an independent organization to follow up with in the event the hotel tried to turn you away upon check-in.

Would you stay in a love hotel?