Start exploring around practically any large Japanese city and you'll probably come across a district with uniquely constructed hotels sporting flashy names like “Hotel La Passion” or “Hotel Secret” – things that might strike you as different from the ones you're used to seeing during your trip. These are Japan’s famous Love Hotels.
Love hotels are exactly what you can infer from their name. They offer accommodation for (usually) couples who are looking to spend a few hours alone in a comfortable and private environment, but they are also more than just that. Join as we tour inside one of Japan’s secret worlds!
Love Hotels: More Than Just a Bed
Now especially if you're from Europe, the U.S, or other Western countries, you may be thinking of love hotels as some sleazy motel rooms. In Japan this is most often not the case. In fact, love hotels are not only relatively common, but they compete also on looks, cleanliness, amenities, services, and overall high-quality stays for their customers, at prices that are often very competitive.
Love hotels are often not just a bed and four walls offering a "rest" at a discounted rate. In fact, most of them have amenities and facilities that rival those of some of the best "regular" hotels in Japan. You can often choose among rooms with indoor or open-air sento (hot bath), jacuzzis, saunas, karaoke machines. Many are designed around a central theme, which can be anything from a tropical resort to a cuddle anime theme to an S&M dungeon.
How can I find a love hotel in Japan?
At glance they are pretty easy to recognize. They are hotels with darkened windows, and with their rates displayed on bright signage right by the entrance. If you want to choose where to go before you head out, a quick google search (ラブホテル) paired with the city you're in, or a specific neighborhood, will show hundreds of results.
Love hotels appear to be in a higher concentration either near minor stations (non-heavily residential areas), as well as in neighborhoods with lots of nightlife entertainment.
When you're in Tokyo you'll see love hotels often, but if you want to go where you'd have the largest choice head to Ikebukuro or Kabukicho (in Shinjuku), or to the so-called Love Hotel Hill in Shibuya. Also, Uguisudani, in the very popular area of Ueno has a lot of options.
Going Inside a Tokyo Love Hotel: What to expect
Just outside the love hotel will be pictures showing inside the different rooms in the hotel. Beside the typical gaudy exteriors, this is one of the key ways to distinguish between a love hotel and a standard hotel. (Another key indicator is that love hotels will offer prices for "rests" and "stays" whereas more standard hotels will typically not advertise rates outdoors.)
Venture into the reception area inside a love hotel and you'll likely encounter a panel showing the different kinds of rooms that are currently available. This can take the form of a kind of touchscreen, in the case of newer buildings, or a photo with a price indicated and a button beneath it. Rooms will often have various options for its theme.
You can enjoy a simple and bland room, or one littered with strategically positioned mirrors, as well as rooms filled with flowers, or resembling a dungeon. Others will look like art museums, or will be equipped with exotic-dancing poles.
Or if the “kawaii” style is what you're looking for, Love Hotels have got you covered. What's more is that not only are love hotels in Japan, by and large, quite clean and well kempt, but they also make it a point to respect the privacy of patrons and staff alike. Hence, you will likely not see the reception staff directly.
Further, if you order food or other items to your room, they will be delivered to your door and left there. You will likely never see, or be seen by, anyone from the moment you enter to when you leave.
Typical Amenities at a Japanese Love Hotel
You will also often get a TV and free access to some spicier channels. Most love hotels also have room service with more than decent food, gadgets and toys, a lot of toiletries and, oftentimes, free protection. There may also be a vending machine selling cosplay costumes or similar free rentals available.
Computerized controllers will allow you to choose the look of the room (dimming the lights, changing the color of the lights, modifying the atmosphere around you from a party-inducing one to a more romantic, or relaxing one.
Rooms also have complementary anything-anyone-may-ever-need in a room and bathroom.
Not only will you find dozens among shampoos, conditioners, toiletries, but also hair straighteners, curling irons, creams, and more.
Rooms often have the option to choose among a number of relaxing gadgets like foot massagers, self-warming eye marks, massage chairs, and a number of amenities that you’re unlikely to find in regular hotels (or for which you'd have to pay out of your nose).
You're also likely to see vending machines in the room for drinks, and sex toys, if that's your fancy.
Why do Japanese people choose love hotels and why should I?
Japanese customers and those who are not simply passing by, choose love hotels for a number of reasons. While some people may legitimately seek a rest, many are looking for a reasonably discreet place with thicker walls than the typical Japanese apartment.
More recently however, there are many other reasons for people to choose love hotels above a standard hotel. Love hotels tend to offer fancy services like heated rock floors, jacuzzis, hot tubs, and more, do so at a fraction of the price regular hotels offer.
You won't need to book a room beforehand. You might find a couple that have no available rooms, but it's near impossible to not find a room within a few blocks, even during peak hours. Unlike many hotels, you can rent a room in love hotels by the hour.
There aren't really many cons to staying in a love hotel, except maybe the feeling of being in a slightly-too-unconventional place. Love hotels are made to stay in until check-out, so in many of them you won't be able to leave your room, once you get in.
Some love hotels might also be resistant to renting a room to a single person, or may ask for increased rates. Some also tend to turn down same-sex couples (but there are a number that you can find online that are same-sex-couple friendly).
So how much are love hotels in Japan?
As mentioned before the prices in love hotels are by and large lower than those in their more mainstream counterparts.
Prices, of course, change greatly depending on the room you choose, the services, the extras, and so on.
Love hotels usually have two types of rates: short stay and long stay.
On average a short stay will be around 4,000 yen. Longer stays vary from 4,000 yen (simple, lower-end with rooms similar to those of a regular business hotel) to 20,000 yen (you'd be staying in a high-end room with lots of amenities). On average you can expect to spend around 9,000 - 12,000 yen for a night stay.
If you're looking for a bargain, though, love hotels offer several (aside from those coming with membership).
Those hotels that allow booking online, often have special prices on some rooms.
More commonly, though, almost all love hotels offer reduced prices during non-peak hours. Look for "service" or "free" time offers for discounts of up to 50%. They usually appear after 6am (Tokyo nightlife can be quite engaging and it won't be unlikely for you to go for a few drinks and realize it's morning and time to rest), and they continue well into the afternoon.
When it comes to paying, as mentioned before usually you'll pay in your room, before leaving, or upon checking in. Most hotels accept cash and credit cards, but some only take cash, so be prepared. If you want to use your card, but you don't want the charge to show on your statement, you will find that many establishments will charge under a different business name.
Love hotels can be comfortable, cheaper, and an interesting new experience. They are also very much part of Japanese society and subculture, so they may be worth trying out during your trip to Japan.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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