Quirky Accoms

I make this suggestion as a cultural observer, not as a pervert. The next time you find yourself in some unfamiliar town for a busy festival and all the hotels are booked up solid, go ahead grab yourself a “love hotel”. As well as being one of the funkier slices of the Japanese cultural pie, reservations aren’t allowed, so they are typically available long after the conventional hotels have been snatched up. As well, the prices of their rooms run at about a 1/4 of the price of most other hotels – unless of course you want a swimming pool in your room, which is an option just in case at a higher rate. Most of all – aside from the seedier implications - they are simply hilarious. I’m not sure who designs them, but I think it’s the same guy that does the panchinko parlors. Love hotels are veritable shrines of Tackiness, often pushing the interior décor envelope as far as it will go... and sometimes farther.

You have simply got to check it out. It is a cultural experience exclusive to Japan… or at least in the same way that ‘combinis’ and 'onsens' are. Other countries do ‘em, but not the way Japan does.

When it comes to the rooms, the décor is where it's at, often in done in themes. I've heard of outer space themes – Mars, Venus and even the moon - wild west suites with velour covered cactus, jungle motifs, and split-level rooms with disco balls and wall-to-bed swimming pools… rooms that would give Guadi pause and do Las Vegas proud.

And they’re everywhere. Whether you're in a big city or rice paddy land, most likely there is a neon sign near towering above of these lodging oddities.

And convenient… as well as their availability, you can rent 'em by the hour, by the night, or for the day. The names seem fairly random... 'Hotel Daiana', 'Urban Resort', 'Hotel 21', 'Shangri-La', 'The With Hotel'. And they’re not as seedy as you’d think. More just bizarre.

Second, they are very discrete… insanely so. The check-in clerk sits behind a screen and the most you see of them is a hand, maybe a wrist or two. They never see you, as far as you know. And I've heard of complimentary license tag shields for those extremely concerned with discretion. Some hotels have a completely automated check-in/check-out system, but you might talk to a real person on a phone before sending them your cash in an air-powered bank teller tube.

Normally, you select your room through a display panel in the lobby. If the room is available, its individual panel is back-lit and therefore you can see a sample photo. If its not available, it is blacked out. The rates are conveniently displayed in the corner of each room’s individual display panel (the day rate, night rate and the hourly rate) and whether they have karaoke or other special features. And the elevators are only big enough for one couple so as to avoid awkward rides up or down.

Speaking of features, these love hotels typically come loaded. My first experience was in Nagasaki during their recent lantern festival. It was fairly basic, but clean. Simple and tacky at the same time. Unfortunately the more outrageous rooms were taken. The bed had an inflatable neon fringe and there was a vending machine in the corner that sold battery operated marital aids next to a pay-karaoke machine. There were three channels of porn and the bathroom featured an inflatable raft. My second and last foray into the world of love hotels was also during a a city-wide festival. This second hotel was more on the subdued end of the spectrum. It was quite plush and almost tasteful. Still it came with porn, but all in all the room was very normal. The furniture was made of real wood and there was an entertainment center, CD player, nintendo and a karoake computer. There was even a TV in the bathroom next to the jacuzzi.

Recently there has been an effort to give the reputation of these erotic accomodations a facelift and some hotels specialize in more subtle fare to cater to married couple who just simply want to get away for a night or a weekend. So yeh, they're not just for love anymore. In these cases, the name 'Love Hotel' gives way to the more the subtle nomer, 'Fashion Hotel' and the rooms tend to feature traditional accents and tatami mats instead of jungle themes and inflatable bed fringe; more of an emphasis on feng-shui than pheremone funk. But you can bet your bottom yen, they all got complimentary porn.

Of course, for the purpose of this cultural exercise, I recommend getting as outrageous a room as available.

Though I was a bit dissapointed that I couldn't find one of the more far-out hotels with crazier rooms, I am thrilled I was able to check out the tip of this bizarre cultural iceberg.

So, yes… I highly recommend that you give these hilarious bizarre accommodations a look before you leave behind this intriguing culture full of ironies, contradictions and glorious quirkiness. Who knows, maybe one day you will find yourself sleeping on the Moon.