Sleeping with Hello Kitty: travel sites bring foreigners to Japan’s love hotels

As the number of foreign visitors to Japan continues to increase, the tourist demand for hotels is at an all time high, and shows no signs of stopping. With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics on the horizon, what can Japan do to house this influx of (paying) guests? Can Japan can show these visitors some love? Recently, thrifty travelers and hotel booking websites have become a match made in love hotel heaven.

I. Osaka (2010)

The first love hotel I saw was Hotel Pasta Book ホテルパスタブック in Osaka. This was the first glimpse of the  “weird Japan” that first-time visitors to the country always seem to expect. (Sadly, I believe this hotel no longer exists).

The little I knew about love hotels filled me with vague discomfort: I imagined  embarrassed young couples walking down dim hallways, red lighting, extra-martial affairs. Love hotels felt like a symptom of a societal illness I had yet to diagnose.

Let me explain how I found myself sleeping in a love hotel two years later.

II. A night of bliss in a Kobe (2013)

How to find yourself in a love hotel…

Step 1: Make a spur-of-the-moment trip to visit Kobe during the National Foundation Day 建国記念の日 holiday weekend.

Step 2: Don’t make a hotel reservation

Step 3: Arrive at Shin-Kobe station at 6:30 pm, walk down the hill, ducking into half a dozen hotels, only to learn there are no vacancies.

Step 4: Visit a travel bureau at Sannomiya station; get your hopes up. Listen as they call several hotels in Kobe, some even in Osaka. Get your hopes dashed promptly at 7:00 pm when the office closes and the women helping you magically disappears.

Step 5: Grab dinner and a beer; come to terms with a night on the streets on this cold February night.

Step 6: Wander the streets, finding yourself up the hill near Shin-Kobe station. Notice a cluster of brightly lit buildings. (Garish, some might say; reserve judgment for later.) Walk into one of these buildings; it is warm, it is your salvation. It has vacancies. It is a love hotel, and you will spend the night here.

Step 7: Sleeeeep. The bed was huge and comfortable and I sleep soundly. Maybe the best sleep of 2013. Thank you, love hotel.

The hotel: HOTEL JAGUAR KOBE NORTH ジャガーホテル神戸ノース (map)

My room:

Sage advice, and condoms: “Just clean up!”

Odds and ends: tissues, a “massage toy”, and a Nagomi Ball air cleaning machine 空気洗浄機:

Menus and souvenir guide: celebrate your tryst with Pizza Hut, Mickey Mouse, and Pooh-san (Winnie-the-Pooh クマのプーさん)

III. Benefits of love hotels

After spending one night in a love hotel (alone), my thoughts dramatically changed. I stopped seeing love hotels as seedy and started seeing them as a necessity in a country where many people either live at home or in extremely cramped, decidedly unromantic apartments. Love hotels have three main selling points:

  • Size: based on my one experience (and corroborated by online room listings), the typical love hotel room is considerably larger than a Japanese business hotel, and is even on par with the size of a “Western” hotel room.
  • Availability: As I found in my Kobe experience, love hotels are generally available at the last minute. If you find yourself in a Japanese city without hotel reservations on a holiday weekend, head to the love hotel district. You’ll probably find a room if you show up earlier in the evening, say 6-9 pm. As the evening wears on, and couples get drunker and/or more amorous, the love hotels will start filling up.
  • Anonymity:  Love hotels do not require guests to provide identification. This is a stark contrast to regular Japanese hotels, which, in my experience, have all taken a copy of my ID or passport. (According to my love hotel’s written policy, they are required by law to check passports of non-Japanese residents. I suspect this is not followed as strictly as for a regular hotel.)

IV. Buyer beware, love is in the air (2014 – today)

When I took that trip to Kobe, the only hotels appearing on Expedia, Travelocity, etc, were “regular” hotels, none of which had vacancies. This, despite that fact that my love hotel and presumably others had vacancies. None of the love hotels were listed on the traditional (English language) booking websites.

An old thread on Tripadvisor (‘Love Hotels – booking‘) essentially said that “you cannot book love hotels” in advance. But this has been changing.

Now, many love hotels advertise their rooms on traditional hotel booking websites. A quick search for Kobe lists several love hotels in the results; love hotels are generally among the cheapest option, other than hostels.

As seen in the booking.com example, some travelers may be surprised that they have booked themselves a love hotel. Despite the “adults only” description, there is no explicit reference to these being love hotels. I imagine that many first-time visitors to Japan end of booking rooms in these hotels without even knowing that love hotels exist. Is this a problem? Probably not. Some hotels explicitly say “love hotel” in the fine print, though others do not.

According to reviews I’ve seen, people don’t seem to strongly object to spending the night in love hotel, even if they weren’t expecting it:

Hotel Fine Garden Osaka Juso, Osaka (agoda.com)

  • “Convenient location near Juso station – only a few stops from Osaka station. Very comfortable bed. Hotel is a love hotel but don’t let that put you off. Staff very friendly and accommodating.”

Hotel Public Jam (Adult only) (booking.com)

  • “Realised after booking it is a ‘Love Hotel’ so explained the mirrored wall in the room and the seedy feeling of the entrance.”

Fine Sakai – Adults Only ファイン堺, Osaka (expedia.com)

  • “I think the one thing everyone needs to realize before booking is that this is a love hotel. While it wouldn’t be the most family-friendly place if you’re travelling with kids, if you’re travelling by yourself or with a friend or spouse and don’t mind certain channels on TV or unusual room amenities, it’s a great alternative to some of the expensive other hotels.”
  • This is the first time that I stayed at a Love Hotel, although my family was not keen that I do so, I wanted to try it out. The price that I paid and the services and amenities offered by the hotel was fantastic value for money. The hotel staff was unobtrusive, yet they are available when you do need them. Dont let the type LOVE HOTEL put you off. I like it so much that I changed my hotel booking for my trip next month. My family did not stay with me at this hotel, if you are just a leisure traveller, it is still a respectable place to stay.”

Hotel Winbell Magic –

Hotel Olive Sakai – Adults Only (hotels.com)

  • “Great value for money. It’s a love hotel but that didn’t bother me – had huge room with a king sized bed, comfortable and quiet place to sleep. The toilet was tiny though. Location is close to the train station and easy to get to from kansai airport, although not in Central Osaka.”
  • “After many trips to Japan, this was our first stay in a “love hotel” – a circumstance forced on us by the fact Osaka appeared to be fully booked on a Saturday night. We approached it with some trepidation, but everything went smoothly…The decor could only be described as Sopranos; the room’s fittings – including one-arm bandit, karaoke machine and big-screen projection equipment – and the various amenities combined to prove how funny the human race is when it comes to desire: in the English expression, “there’s nowt so queer as folk”. It’s located in a love-hotel enclave; we took a walk around the block to check out other themes.”

Despite the tolerance of most guests, one review of Hotel Olive Sakai was noticeably perturbed:

  • A big thank you to Expedia for telling us this is a love hotel….(heavy sarcasm)….Once inside there is no one at the front desk as this this a love hotel and they are very serious about privacy. So we read up on love hotels and its great if you want somewhere private with your GF/BF or mistress but not so great if you are on holidays…Once getting to our room it was spacious for the price that we paid…The bathroom has a jacuzzi and TV. The TV has porn. The porn is heavily pixilated…There was also a ‘massage toy’ attached to a wall…Aside from the unexpected sex paraphernalia and the sorta suburban location…it was a nice hotel.”

Although Hotel Olive is fairly tasteful, many love hotels have gaudy decor, such as Hotel Candy Hall ホテル キャンディーホール in Osaka (map). Can you imagine spending your first night in Japan in the following room? Yes, that’s Hello Kitty in the corner:

V. How to book a love hotel

For a foreigner, a traditional website is probably the easiest option.

Booking.com

Booking.com currently lists 106 love hotels in Japan in a dedicated list, with the majority located in the Kinki Region 近畿地方 (aka Kansai関西), centered around Osaka.

Expedia.com

Expedia doesn’t have a separate love hotel section, but you can search for hotels for a city, then narrow the search by hotel name, searching for the term “adults only”. This

Agoda.com

Similar to Expedia, you can search for love hotels on agoda.com by narrowing your hotel search by filtering the name with the search term “adults only”.

Hotels.com

Appendix I – Resources:

Appendix II – Love hotels noted or pictured in this blog:

Appendix III – Love hotels around Tokyo:

One night after missing the last train, I walked several miles from the bar to my apartment, past the stately spires of Hotel Emperor Meguro ホテル 目黒エンペラー, considered “Japan’s all-time most famous love hotel”:

Here’s a photo of the hotel from circa 1985 (from Tokyo: The City at the End of the World), and from 2012:

Other love hotels in Tokyo and Yokohama:

Other:

1. Still from the 1973 film The Petrified Forest 化石の森 Kaseki no mori (the main character’s mother clean love hotels for a living); 2. love hotel in converted meikyoku kissa 名曲喫茶 classical music coffee shop:

Love hotels in Japan, as mentioned in this post

Map of Dogenzaka 道玄坂, aka “Love Hotel Hill”, in Shibuya, Tokyo

Tokyo Love Hotel map

  • From http://tokyonightstyle.com (warning…it’s an escort site)

 

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