So-called love hotels -- also known variously as fashion hotels, couples hotels, happy hotels, amusement hotels, leisure hotels, boutique hotels and, more recently, urban resorts -- offer rooms for rent in two- or three-hour increments as well as for overnight.
In most parts of Japan, such hotels are subject to strict zoning regulations -- such as avoiding close proximity to schools -- and the Tokyo metropolis no longer issues business licenses for new hotels, placing a premium on the ones that remain in business.
Weekly Playboy (May 27) reports that one such hostelry at Shimokitazawa, in Tokyo's Setagaya Ward, has found itself in the center of controversy through no doing of its own.
Shimokitazawa, a popular night life area with stores, restaurants and bars, is served by two commuter rail lines, the Odakyu and Inokashira lines. To avoid congestion, and improve access, thereby opening up more space to commercial development of the station area, several years ago the Odakyu railway operator moved its platforms underground. This also enabled the opening, last March, of an attractive new wicket in the station's central area.
It's the station's southwest exit, however, that is attracting more attention. A man who recently visited the area put it like this: "The first thing you see when leaving the exit is a love hotel."
He was referring to Hotel Refua (unnamed in the Playboy article), which, thanks to the abovementioned station expansion, can now be reached in approximately 15 seconds from the station exit.
An unnamed cognoscenti of the love hotel trade tells the magazine, "As far as I know, a certain hotel in Uguisudani (in Tokyo's Taito Ward) had been the love hotel located closest to a station up to now. It could be reached in about 20 seconds."
So close is the hotel to Shimokitazawa station that some residents have humorously taken to calling this particular exit the Rabuho-guchi (love hotel exit).
"The station's southwest exit was situated in consideration of passengers who live in that direction, or other users," said a spokesperson for the Odakyu Railway Co. "We knew about the hotel and its business model, but did not make any effort to ask locals' opinion when planning and building the exit."
A person involved in the neighborhood merchants' association was quoted as saying, "Nothing we say will matter at this point, but this reflects directly on the appearance of the station area. It's too bad nobody gave any consideration to this before deciding on the location of the exit."
Weekly Playboy also queried the operator of a nearby bar on his feelings about the hotel.
"There are only two love hotels close to Shimokitazawa Station," he replied. "One is smack dab in the middle of a commercial street, which makes it hard to go in. As for Refua, since it used to be accessed via a back street it didn't stand out as much and has been popular. I think it was used a lot for 'erotic massage' businesses that dispatched women to the rooms. But the location was also convenient for frustrated housewives seeking solace."
But now with the new street layout the hotel has become more conspicuously located.
"With schoolchildren constantly walking past and all, the business has really taken a hit," a hotel employee complained to Weekly Playboy. "I guess with more people out and about, customers feel embarrassed to be seen coming in. Sometimes a customer asks, 'Don't you have a back exit?' But still, our boss seems inclined to maintain its status as a love hotel..."© Japan Today