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Love Hotels in Japan

One fascinating aspect of Japanese culture is its openness towards discussions and perceptions of sex. Whether you're already familiar with the concept or hearing about it for the first time, I'm excited to introduce you to the intriguing world of love hotels—Japan's unique answer to private, thematic spaces for intimacy. If you're visiting and looking for a different kind of experience, consider giving love hotels a try. You might find yourself pleasantly surprised—or at least intrigued—by the comfort and variety of themes available.

In many countries, intimate encounters typically occur at home or maybe bars or restaurants( not quite sure for the last parts, just have seen it in the movies 😆). However, Japan has innovated with the creation of "love hotels," hygienic and clean spaces specifically designed for these activities, integrating them into cultural norms. These hotels adapt over time, offering features such as rooms with simulated starry skies, karaoke, video games, and movie watching—amenities that rival even the most luxurious international hotels.

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To ensure maximum privacy, many love hotels feature a fully automated check-in process where you can pay through a machine without any human interaction. While some places may have staff present, they are typically positioned behind obscured customer windows, ensuring that their faces remain unseen. This design prioritizes your privacy from the moment you enter.

Legally, according to the 1984 amendment to the Entertainment Business Act, facilities with features like rotating beds and large mirrors are classified as "love hotels" (store-type sexual entertainment businesses). These establishments are subject to stringent regulations, including age restrictions and location constraints, prohibiting them from being near schools, parks, and hospitals. To avoid these strictures and the oversight of police enforcement of the Entertainment Business Law, many owners chose to remove the rotating beds and mirrors, reclassifying their establishments as "inns" under the Hotel Business Law, which is regulated by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

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As a result of these regulatory changes, rotating beds, once popular even internationally, have become a rarity in these venues.

Origin of Love Hotels

The concept of love hotels can be traced back to Japan's Edo period. During this time, "encounter teahouses" were discreetly constructed behind regular teahouses, and "kawaboats" provided private spaces along riverbanks for intimate encounters.

As Japan modernized during the Meiji period with the advent of the railroad, a new type of establishment, known as "machiai teahouses" (waiting places), emerged in the Shinbashi area. These high-class machiai became popular spots for political and business elites to meet, often accompanied by geisha entertainment.

In contrast, more affordable waiting rooms catered to the general public. These venues are considered the precursors to today's love hotels, offering a private and accessible space for intimate encounters.

Soba restaurants running the show

The origins of love hotels can be traced back to the Meiji era, initially as modest waiting rooms, but by the Taisho era, the modern concept of a love hotel as we know it today had not yet developed. Nonetheless, businesses catering to couples seeking privacy for romantic encounters existed, albeit not prominently.

During the Taisho era, one notable example of such an establishment was a soba restaurant—not around the dining table, but rather utilizing the second floor of the building. In urban areas, these soba restaurants were often seen as venues where rooms could be discreetly rented for intimate purposes. This setup wasn't unique to soba shops; various store-style businesses also offered similar services, renting rooms on a temporary basis.

This practice of renting rooms to couples as a side business gradually became more established and evolved significantly during wartime, aligning more to what we recognize today as love hotels. These venues provided a discreet, accessible space for couples, continuing a tradition that began with simple room rentals in earlier periods.

Introducing Mirrors

Around 1955, many brothels began to enhance the excitement of their rooms by installing mirrors. Instead of beds, these rooms typically featured futons, with waist-high fusuma (sliding panels) that, when opened, revealed mirrors. In some of the more luxurious rooms, entire walls were made of mirrors.

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The incorporation of mirrors didn't require any advanced technology, leading to the prevalence of "mirror rooms" well before the advent of electric beds. Many traditional inns, known as "tokkomi ryokans," also adopted mirrors to enhance the visual experience of intimacy. It was a distinctive innovation by the Japanese to outfit both walls and ceilings with mirrors, especially popular around rotating beds, which allowed the actions of the occupants to be reflected from every angle.

This addition significantly boosted the allure of love hotels, as many guests were thrilled by the visual stimulation that was absent in their homes. The idea that sex at love hotels was uniquely exciting became widespread. However, as regulations tightened, particularly those limiting the use of revolving beds and extensive mirrors, the number of these specially equipped rooms decreased.

It all started in Dogenzaka, Shibuya

Ascending Dogenzaka in Shibuya, the area encompassing Maruyama-cho and parts of Dogenzaka, recently dubbed "Ura-Shibu," has emerged as a trendy hub featuring a vibrant mix of restaurants, bars, live music venues, and clubs. It has about 300 love hotels, a remnant of its past as a red-light district. However, in Japan, while the National Police Agency officially recognizes about 7,000 love hotels across the country, estimates suggest that the actual number could be as high as 35,000—five times the official count.

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The transformation of this district began after Shibuya Station opened in 1885. Within a couple of years, a restaurant opened adjacent to a public bathhouse in Maruyamacho, quickly becoming popular. This spurred the rapid development of other eateries and waiting rooms, eventually establishing the area as a red-light district. The proliferation of love hotels here is detailed in "Japan's Showa Love Hotel Encyclopedia" by Kanemasumi and Kenji Murakami, which reflects on the cultural significance of love hotels as integral to Japanese society, evolving naturally with the populace's desires.

The book reveals interesting historical insights, noting that about half of the hotel and inn founders in Shibuya during the early Showa period were women. Given the societal norms of the time, these women, often not legally recognized as wives and lacking financial security, were likely propelled by necessity and opportunity to establish businesses such as Japanese inns. Initially serving food, these establishments gradually adapted to meet guest demands, evolving into the hourly rental model characteristic of modern love hotels. This history not only illustrates the entrepreneurial spirit of these women but also highlights the complex social dynamics of the era in Shibuya’s evolution.

The evolution of love hotels over time reflects changing tastes and needs. Originally characterized by lavish and eye-catching designs, these establishments are shifting towards simpler, more elegant aesthetics. Today, love hotels cater to a diverse clientele, ranging from couples seeking a unique getaway to business travelers needing convenient accommodations.The essence of a love hotel lies in its ability to enhance the experience of its guests, offering added value that elevates the ordinary into something memorable.

Here are some uniquely themed love hotels you might find interesting:

1. Hotel ALPHA-IN: A haven for SM enthusiasts.

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2. TOWER'S HOTEL in Osaka: A train-themed love hotel for railway aficionados.

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3. Hotel Charmant: Offers facilities for tennis and golf enthusiasts.

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4. HOTEL SK PLAZA: Features an impressive pool for aquatic fun.

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