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The story of love hotels

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One of my favorite J-pop groups, Kome Kome Club, wrote a tune a number of years ago called “Funk Fujiyama.” The lyrics gently poked fun of many of the stereotypes and ideas that visitors to Japan at that time had.

Twenty years later, I find the tune -- with its references to Utamaro, Yoshiwara, Ocha, sake, Hiroshima, Kyoto, harakiri, sushi and geisha -- interesting for a number of reasons. First, while at the time it did sum up all that visiting tourists knew about Japan, in retrospect, it also indicates how much more sophisticated the outside world has become. Foreign interests in Japan are no longer limited to the exotic or stereotypical. Otaku fever has taken over, and visitors are more savvy than ever.

I am deeply envious of today’s college/post-college generation. Many became interested in manga and anime in high school and go on to take Japanese courses in college. By the time they come here, many are ready to ace level 2 of the JLPT. They may have even already excelled at a traditional Japanese art as well.

Despite all this, no matter how much exposure many have had, the one thing that seems to amuse visitors to Japan the most, is the existence of the love hotel. Indeed, with their big bright lights and outlandish facades, they’re hard to miss. I live near one that’s a replica of the QEII.

Love Hotel “architecture” definitely represents a type of nipponesque quirk at its most ludicrous and imaginative. In addition, the love hotel demands such a dignity that the one time I heard someone refer to one as a “motel,” I practically shuttered.

Love hotels are not “cheap” hotels – at their best, they’re works of art. Even at their most mediocre, there’s something fun and alluring about them. Although some have outlandish themes, the insides of many are not so different from a great deal of standard business hotels, give or take a few extra amenities. The fact that the rooms are often more spacious make them a true bargain since their prices are usually the same or cheaper.

This being Japan, they’re also clean.

After reading some comments under my Christmas story, I couldn’t help but wonder a bit about the history of these oddities which to me, more so than temples and the disappearing clay roof houses, are a vital part of virtually any Japanese landscape.

As for their history, it has been argued that the Japanese in times past had very open attitudes toward sex. However, in the 1600s, the shogunate required that certain types of establishments limit their operations to a district in Kyoto which is said to have been the prototype of the Yoshiwara red-light district. The idea was to enable samurai to observe a strict code of public behavior, while at the same time remaining discrete. The districts were also advantageous to the Tokugawa authorities, who were able to collect ample tax revenues from them.

This is where things get interesting. Originally, men would go to meet geisha (some who also offered additional services) at tea houses, but they were soon replaced by special meeting places as well as sobaya (yes, soba shops ... imagine that).

During the Meiji Restoration, in an effort to modernize, some of Japan’s sexual openness was eaten away at by an ideology called “ryosai kenbo” (good wives, wise mothers). But by the mid-1920s, American-style hotels began to emerge in Kanagawa. There were also places called “enshuku” (one yen dwellings), which rented rooms for one yen per person per hour. Unlike ordinary hotels, they had exotic rooms with Western furnishings, double beds and locking doors. “Enshuku” and bathhouses became spots for an outside the home rendezvous until the late 1960s.

It was during the 1970s that the first “love hotels” we know today began to appear. One of the first was a Disneyland-like facility called “The Meguro Emperor.” Others followed, copying themes from Western fairytales. Soon, hotels began opening around Tokyo with names like Casablanca, Sky Love, Venus, Paradiso, Aphrodite, and the less discretely named Hotel Eros.

During the height of the bubble era, establishments such as these benefited from corporations that had “entertainment budgets” which allowed employees to splurge at restaurants, bars and hostess and nightclubs – all which were tax deductible expenses. At the same time, a societal ideal arose where the male was expected to work hard and bring home the paycheck to his wife, but what he did outside the house with his fellow colleagues was part social obligation, and part men being men.

Today, things have changed.

The atmosphere is very different. Mizushobai (night-time bar industry) no longer flourishes like it once did. Companies no longer fund the after hours antics of their employees and the “pocket money” of most salarymen doesn’t allow for it. Though young people can be seen walking and holding hands -- once an uncommon sight in Japan-- the atmosphere has become much more restrained.

There’s also another strange phenomena: while there are more divorces, and people are marrying later, romantic love seems to have entered the picture. Men are beginning to wear engagement rings, and overt behavior once tolerable in the past, seems to be falling by the wayside, though of course, pleasure is available for those who wish to pay for it.

As for the love hotels, they still stand, each and every one waiting for customers, each and every one whose walls have secrets to tell. Not to give the wrong impression, their clientele include plenty of married as well as steady couples. Yet in Omiya near where I live, I notice strange phenomena. More and more "kyabakura" are disappearing and in their place, large cheap chain restaurants are opening up. The Japanese salaryman’s waistlines even seem to be expanding.

Looking back on the good old days, I sigh…

© Japan Today

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26 Comments
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Oh my gosh, another writer who's discovered a controversial topic about Japan. Hey, don't forget host clubs and the Tsukiji fish market. This article meanders all over the place, is full of generalizations, lacks basic research and leaves a lot to be desired. The writer could have even gone to Wiki and found that the term "love hotel" derived from the intentional reversal of an establishment in Osaka named "Hotel Love." It would have also been helpful to see a paragraph noting that Tokyo and other municipalities have ceased to issue licenses for new establishments, and have also imposed restrictions on the distance from a school at which such hotels may legally operate. There's another recent new ordinance that aims at cracking down on conventional hotels used as love hotels (such as by renting rooms for short stays and not requiring guests to register using their names).

“Enshuku” and bathhouses became spots for an outside the home rendezvous until the late 1960s.

If you're going to delve into their history, where are the missing links, like machiai, tsurekomi yado and abekku hoteru?

-10 ( +6 / -16 )

@virtuoso abekku hoteru is another name for a love hotels and Machiai are tea houses which the author mentions.

Your reference to Hotel Love probably comes from an article linked to "The Stars and Stripes" in Wikipedia, both being definitive sources on Japanese culture I guess. -- Actually, The Meguro Emperor is recognized as the protege of the modern love hotel because of its design. (In my younger days I will admit to having frequented it more than a few times, if its the same one that's still standing.) -- Enshuku were unique because they were Western style hotels with locking doors. If a Japanese person is reading this, perhaps they can clarify the difference between enshuku and tsurekomi yado. Enshuku were Western style hotels which were unique because they hand the locking doors and double beds. Yado is Japanese for an "inn", more specifically a guest house -- not really a modern hotel.

Your reference to the license issue is actually a whole 'nother topic... and quite complex. The way it works is that there are two types of hotels. Conventional hotels require guests to register (meaning present name and id) and love hotels that operate as "fukozoku". -- love hotels can continue to operate, so long as they register as regular hotels, but register the guests properly. If they don't, then the owner can be prosecuted for running an illegal love hotel. Of course, in Japan, "fuzoku" operate in separate districts -- As a result, if you visit some newer establishments the plus side is 1 -- They take credit cards!!! downside -- No more window with the curtain... you gotta show your face. I read an article a while back that said HALF of all love hotels are registered as conventional businesses.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

johnny@ check this out: www.love-yoogle.jp/f/p250_i11223.html -- Hotel Love's still going strong in Tennoji-ku, Osaka.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Sorry, I must jump in on this after years of teaching creative writing classes in community colleges and international schools.

Virtuoso, you seem to have missed the point of the article.

Its not a news story. Its a casual essay. An essay doesn't report hard facts, or argue a thesis with lists of supporting points. The latter would be an editorial.

The purpose of a casual essay is to get the reader to think, not to think for you. Usually, such stories are written using a lot of allegory.

In this case the story begins by talking about people's images of Japan, and argues that Love Hotels are just as much a part of what Japan is about as all those other references. The author points out past images of Japan, and admits that people who visit Japan are more sophisticated; however, they're still amazed by the love hotels which stick out more than Temples and old buildings.

The author describes how they came about, but then suggests that because the society is changing they're becoming less relavant.

The essay ends describing how society is changing and describes change suggesting that fuzoku is in decline. He offers two analogies. One: people holding hands (romantic love). Two: The closing of cabarets and opening of chain restaurants. He ends with the image of an expanding Japanese salaryman's waistline, then ends on a wistful note how he misses those days.

Spelled out for you, love hotels are an important part of the Japanese landscape, but their heyday is long past.

As a final note, wikis are not suitable for scholarly reference. If you want to know if the paper was legitimately researched, I'd contact the author and see if he'd be kind enough to refer you to his primary sources.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

I stand by my original remarks. This could have been a much better article if the writer had managed to come up with some fresh insights or taken the trouble to do a little more research.

-4 ( +3 / -7 )

virtuoso, I have to agree with Freddie, I think you're missing the point of the story. You're comparing it with a Wikipedia article and asking that it make more points than that story -- when the article is trying to make a point about how Japanese society and culture is changing, which is something I know the author frequently writes about.

I don't know how long you've been here, but mizushoubai, fuzaku and cabaret were once a very important part of the Japanese salaryman's afterhour life. The hotels sprung up during that era. Japanese salarymen were once famous for being very skinny. Its true that many small snack bars and hostess clubs are closing and they're being replaced by "chain-ten" restaurants and izakaya, so I find the idea that Japan is going from sexual decadence to fried chicken is somewhat funny. -- Also, Nampa used to be a very popular pastime for young Japanese, but now there are articles about "Japan's Herbivore Men" and the phenomena of young Japanese having no interest in sex.

Has anybody else noticed that there seem to be far less "nampa" dudes that there used to be?

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I don't know how long you've been here,

How about, "longer than you've been alive, sonny"? Since you disdain Wiki, try reading 性風俗年表 (Seifuuzoku Nenpyo, a chronology of the sex trade) covering the postwar era, from Kawade Shobo,

-6 ( +0 / -6 )

A good yarn - I enjoyed it Mr.Landsberg. I still remember one of the first Love Hotels I went to when I arrived - I was blown away by the massive size of the bathroom, the surfing machine (!), bose speakers, big bubble-bath with TV, massive bed - and of course beer and food deliveries! The fittings and features were a world above my poky 1DK aparto. I still have a fantasy of buying an ex-Love Hotel and living in it as my apartment!

3 ( +5 / -2 )

I totally agree with Johnny and Freddie. The point of the article is, as they already mentiond, the changing society, not a scholastic article. I can sense the author's deep love toward good and old days when Japan economically developped. Extravagantly decorated love hotels might still hold those days' atomosphere... Boys became effeminate, amd they rarelly do nampa. Instead of that, some enjoy online dating. People claim that they don't have enough chance to get BF/GF. By the way I haven't heard "ensyuku" and even I couldn't find the word in my Japanese dictionary. It's really interesting to know that there're many "love-hotel" experts!!

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I remember when eating chocolate or cake by men was seen as weird

1 ( +4 / -3 )

I, for one, like love hotels. I'm glad there are so many of them. Most countries should have them. One of the rules of engagement is to never let a casual fling know where you live.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

You have not been to one of the bad ones. I cannot forget when I entered one on my long travel through Niigata along the coastline. It was so dirty and spooky that I was scared like I had got into a ghostly haunted mansion. The only wise thing I did, I decide to check the room before letting my car get locked in. It was infested with all sorts of insects and pests. Some so called love hotels have not been furnished for decades. they are located on the inter-city roads and in rural areas. The Japanese move industry can actually use them as the most natural filming locations for horror and crime movies. The haunted love hotel of japan!

2 ( +5 / -3 )

Places for cheaters, sleazeballs, criminals and drug users. Decent people avoid these places and the vermin that visit them. Should be outlawed, a blot on the landscape.

-15 ( +0 / -15 )

Ninjadave, Have you been in Japan long? In general you don't bring a people back to your house in Japan unless you know them very well, and even if you live alone its not so common, plus the walls of most apartments are paper thin... and regular hotels don't offer "stay". Unless you're saying that you're against pre-marital sex or it should always be done in an extremely quiet manner, most of the better love hotels offer a clean and respectable environment for couples to be intimate. Customers include steady and married ones too. Also, if you have kids and live in a house with sliding doors and the walls are thin, its difficult to have intimacy in a family home as well. This isn't to say that there aren't sleezy ones, but most aren't.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

Places for cheaters, sleazeballs, criminals and drug users. Decent people avoid these places and the vermin that visit them. Should be outlawed, a blot on the landscape.

I can't believe this comment.

Love hotels are the places where I've had the most fun in Japan.

In fact the most fun in my life.

I would recommend love hotels to anybody. With a lovely Japanese lady, they are an excellent place to spend the whole day.

Meet your lovely date for breakfast at a nice coffee shop, then head off to a nearby love hotel (make sure to choose a nice one) and take advantage of their "Service time" plan.

This allows you to stay in the love hotel all day (until 5 or 6pm) for a fixed price of about 5,000 to 8,000 yen. A very good deal!

Come prepared with wine, beer, snacks, food and a good DVD... I couldn't think of a better way to spend a day-off.

You might well find that you don't have time to watch the DVD though...

6 ( +8 / -2 )

johnny; I have resided in Japan for nigh on twenty years. I would never visit a place like these, they are a hotbed of deceit more likely run by undesirable sorts.

I constructed my home myself and ensured we have proper walls and doors for each room. I would never want to be in a room where hundreds of people a year have sex, i find the whole idea repulsive.

Hopefully these places will continue to close and soon will become a distant memory. For peace and quite and privacy, a normal hotel is the way to go.

-9 ( +0 / -9 )

I agree with choiwaruoyaji. Love hotels are great!

1 ( +2 / -1 )

This isn't to say that there aren't sleezy ones, but most aren't.

As one of the more sleazy members of society, I stand by my opinion that love hotels are a necessary part of society. That's the beauty of the free market. If there's a demand, there will be a product.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

While I normally post snide comments like Virtuosos under articles in the commentary section, I really cant on this one. It is not a bad article and I enjoyed reading it. Like other posters said, it isnt an article meant to convey factual information, I thinkcasual essay` is a good way to describe it. I think Eddie is about the only writer who publishes stuff in the commentary section whose stuff is actually readable (save for the stuff of the wire services, etc).

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Interesting article. I wish there would be more love hotels around the world nowadays.

Thanks Eddie, and keep on jamming!

0 ( +1 / -1 )

while at the same time remaining discrete.

The word I think you're looking for is "discreet". "Discrete" means "separate" (although you might also have meant that).

0 ( +1 / -1 )

the insides of many are not so different from a great deal of standard business hotels, give or take a few extra amenities.

Then eddie has been going to the wrong places. The places I go to are state of the art!

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

NINJA DAVE HOW lame you are, obviously on the FAR side of FUN! Love hotels rock! I spent the better part of my 20's in Japan , maybe you have to be young? If Japan's love hotels were to die out it would be a seriously SAD situation as they are a very unique part of it's society nowhere else on earth has such imagination been used to create a place for love so ....

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Love Hotels are awesome!!! ^o^

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Has anybody else noticed that there seem to be far less "nampa" dudes that there used to be? On the contrary I think they are all in the Mercedes showroom in Roppongi- it is shocking

0 ( +0 / -0 )

If you've never stayed in a love hotel, I highly recommend that you do so. While driving in the Japanese countryside my wife and I sometimes stay in love hotels. The people working there seldom see a foreigner and his Japanese wife drop in for a place to stay rather than a wild night of love-making, and they give us first-class treatment. Once near Yonago in Tottori Prefecture, we stayed at a nice place whose workers gave us a room right next to the sea. We could hear the water lapping up at the shore just next to our room ... and the view of the sea from the window was great.

Oh yes ... there's those other attractions, too: mirrored ceilings & walls, interesting baths, and, well, if you get the chance ... see for yourself ...

And often the price is right ... and you can park your car for free, right next to your room. Much like a motel in the U.S. but with a more sexual overtone ...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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