|A traditional video game shop in Akihabara, the electric capital of the world. Many Japanese districts feature semi-hidden hotels for the casual romantic encounter. Photo: @EduPortas|
Amongst all the strange traditions so attractive for the average Westerner who visits Japan, its love hotels (or "ra-vu ho-te-roos", as you would hear it in the English language when being named by the Japanese) must be mentioned.
These small hotels are scattered around most districts of the densely populated centres of mayor Japanese cities. From the outside, they seem like every other building in any big city. In fact, you would normally ignore them while walking through the vast modernity of Tokyo, Osaka or Yokohama.
Now it must be said that non-Japanese visitors place a strong negative bias towards these establishments. After all, their name implies that inside them sexual encounters must occur. This is not entirely true. Love hotels are places for relaxation, above all. They cost much less than your average cosmopolitan hotel, yet offer equal or more conveniences. Sexual encounters are not obligatory to check-in or use them.
They do have a different culture of use. The Japanese are strongly protective about their privacy and even the slightest hint of sexuality breaks their cultural protectiveness towards what they consider should remain private. This is not necessarily an argument built upon a religious sense of shame linked to bodily functions as most Judeo-Christian visitors to Japan would assume. The average Japanese does not see the world under these religious tenants that shape most of the West. Here, Shinto and Buddism are the most practiced religions and both of these mayor schools of thought and action derived from these beliefs are not comparable to shame derived from sexuality as seen in the West. If love hotels in Japan keep a low profile it is because the owner and the customer both understand that the right to privacy is fundamental in social interaction, specially in densely populated cities. Here is a step by step guide on using them:
1. Upon entering a Japanese love hotel you will frequently find that the hotel lobby is empty. (Privacy is important in this culture, remember). Prices and tariffs will be clear: you can stay in different themed rooms by the hour or the whole night. The variety of these themes is overwhelming. My partner and me stayed in a very nicely themed "French Provenance" styled room in Osaka for two hours and payed about 40 dollars (4,000 yen). The rooms include everything you could possibly want to have a pleasurable experience: a bathtub, shower, beauty and toilet articles like hair conditioner, various kinds of shampoos, shower gels, hair products, combs, razors, shaving creams, hair dryers, etc. You will also find provisions for the adult: condoms, vibrators, sex toys and costumes. Save for the condoms, most of these adult items will cost you a bit extra, but you won't break the bank. There will also be a large variety of pornography in your average love hotel cable system, if that's your thing. Above all, the sense that you get from your room is one of disconnect from the toiling of day, heat and tiredness. You come here to play and rest, to wash and reinvigorate yourself before heading back again to the world of concrete and time.
2. So, after entering the lobby you will normally use the elevator to reach the selected room you saw in the lobby. You will identify which room is available thanks to the lobby information: every themed room has some sort of indicator stating which room is free and which one is taken already.
3. Leave the elevator and go straight to your room. If you bump into other people do not ogle them. Free rooms will be open.
4. Enter your room. It's likely that an electronic paying system will be just beside your door. You can either pay with cash or credit card (but always bring cash) for your stay. After you enter your room, a time indicator will start in this machine, telling you at the end how much time transpired during your stay in that particular room. Prices will be clearly marked on this machine. This all sounds complicated, but it's just the same process you follow when paying for a soft-drink with a normal vending machine.
5. That's it! If you payed the proper amount, the love hotel's front office will be automatically notified and no one will see you to the exit. They value their privacy as much you value your own.
My brief stay was a godsend. After a very long day walking about the oppressing heat of Osaka, a little time spent at the love hotel allowed me to enjoy the city at night, where a rich culture comes to life after the Sun has set.