Private “tea houses” with private rooms catering to prostitutes and their clients have existed in Japan since the Edo era (1603 – 1868), but the first contemporary rabu-ho (love hotel) opened in Osaka in 1968. Allowing guests to book hourly rooms as well as overnight, love hotels provided a quick and easy getaway for couples to do their business in private and get out. Today, there are an estimated 30,000 love hotels in Japan alone, though the concept has also become increasingly popular in South Korea and other East Asian countries.
Comedian Billy Crystal once said, “Women need a reason to have sex. Men just need a place”. Okay, Billy Crystal hasn’t been relevant in at least 20 years, but the point is that Japanese hotel owners share a similar philosophy. For this reason, roughly 90% of love hotels in Japan are designed by women; hotel owners typically want a cutesy or charming aesthetic from the outside to coax female guests into feeling comfortable enough to enter. Neon pink signs, fancy lettering, and quirky names are all tell-tale signs that you have not encountered a standard hotel.
Another way to identify a love hotel is by reading the price/stay information. Almost all love hotels offer a “rest” (hourly room) as well as an overnight stay option. For overnight stays, check out times are often determined by what time you check in. Guests stumbling in from the bars at 5:00 am will typically not be forced to check out at 10:00 am.
Privacy is the #2 priority at every love hotel (perhaps you can guess what #1 is). Because of this, guests are never asked for any personal information or identification upon checking in. An opaque glass divider at the check-in window prevents hotel staff from being able to see customers’ faces. Guests simply choose the type of room they want, pay up front, and receive a room key. At some of the more modern hotels, the check-in process is completely automated, with customers selecting their rooms on a screen and depositing money into a machine.
Room quality can range from high-class penthouse suites to something you might expect from dark and dingy roadside motel. You get what you pay for.
While spontaneity is certainly a factor in the love hotel experience, curious couples traveling to Japan might want to do a little research before arriving. Japan is home to a vast number of bizarrely themed hotels complete with sex toys, adult movies, cages, heart-shaped Jacuzzis…the list goes on. Hey, sometimes it’s good to get a little weird.