One of the more exotic aspects of Japan are its "love hotels," private hotels that couples can go to in order to spend a few hours of quality time together if they don't have anywhere else to go. Based on "private inns" that were common in the Edo Period and official facilities set up during the Allied Occupation, love hotels are a huge industry in Japan. I decided to fire off an "ask me anything" question to the J-List Facebook page and see what questions people had. Here are some of them.
Q. What are they? How much do they cost?
A. Basically, hotels where couples can "rest" for 2-3 hours, or "stay" overnight. The cost is usually around $30-50 for a few hours or $80-130 for all night.
Q. Who uses them?
A. Everyone from couples in their 20s to married couples who live with their parents or children. Recently there's been a lot of use by "silver" couples who are still genki, and hotels are starting to embrace these customers by creating 'barrier free' hotel rooms. Though there's no doubt an occasional connection to "delivery health" and other thinly disguised prostitution-esque services, the hotels are surprisingly professional and legitimate.
Q. Can foreigners use them?
A. Sure, no one cares who uses them. If you're coming to Japan and want to give one a try, it would probably be a lot of fun. They're quite common in Tokyo, such as the Spain-zaka area of Shibuya or Uguisu-dani station. If you're outside a major city like Tokyo they can be harder to find, as they're usually placed on the edge of town, hard to get to if you don't have a car.
Q. What will I find there?
A. Competition has forced the hotels to become quite creative, and they offer different themes to couples, with everything from Disney and Hello Kitty themes to rooms with various costumes you can try on to at least one "Hotel California" style establishment. In addition to a vending machine selling ridiculously cute toys for couples, there's lotion and a condom, too, but the J-List staff tells me it's common sense to never use condoms from a love hotel as the previous person might have poked a hole in it as a joke. There are often exotic baths that can be as much fun to play in the main reason for going.
Q. How is privacy handled?
A. Since no one wants to see anyone else when visiting one of these places, hotels get creative here, too. You park your car in the space reserved for the room you want and go right into your room. Payment is handled by a machine that unlocks the door after you insert payment or else a pneumatic tube that delivers your payment to the front desk without you seeing anyone.
Q. How big is the industry?
A. At around $42 billion, the love hotel industry is around twice the size of the entire anime/manga industry. Being such a healthy area of the economy, it occasionally attracts interest by international hedge funds, but they usually can't get around the idea of investing money in a taboo industry. Incidentally, Nintendo famously operated a love hotel for a few years before settling on their current product line
Q. Any more information?
A. If you're curious about these love hotels, we've got a couple of cool photobooks on the site for you to check out.
Love hotels are one of the more mysterious aspects of Japan.