After moving from the UK, I spent four years living and working in Japan.
What Are Love Hotels?
Love hotels are, essentially, normal hotels except that you can pay by the hour and are rarely allowed to remain for longer than 24 hours. They do, however, contain a few added quirks like adult channels as standard on the TV, and some sex toys in the vending machine. Other adult fare, like costumes, can be ordered through the in-room telephones, but everything is kept out of view—so don’t worry if that’s not your cup of o-cha!
Love hotels are a fascinating part of Japanese culture. If you are visiting Japan and are interested in them, you really should try staying in one. They are relatively inexpensive, invariably clean and well kitted out, and most importantly… fun! They also play an important role in Japanese society. Since apartments here are often cramped and have little privacy, they are one of few ways in which couples can have quality time together away from their families. Also, dating couples rarely live together before marriage in Japan, so they only really have the option of love hotels when they want to be alone.
Visiting a Love Hotel
If you live in Japan and haven’t yet stayed in one then you really have no excuse. Love hotels offer a particularly welcome experience in the winter. Since most Japanese apartments offer practically no insulation (I measured the outdoor temperature at just one degree lower than my bedroom last January) and generally no bath to speak of, a love hotel can be a great way to enjoy some quality time with your partner, under less than three duvets and seven layers of clothing!
For regulars, the loyalty cards come with fantastic savings on rests, stays, and food and drink. Usually, you get a card by buying it from a vending machine in your room.
This article has been written to help you smash through the embarrassment barrier of visiting a love hotel and provide enough information to help you get through your “rest” or “stay.”
What to Expect From a Love Hotel
The reputation of Japan’s love hotels in the west is a long way behind reality. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your point of view!) the image of S&M equipment in every room and mirrors on the ceiling that pervades western accounts couldn’t be further from the truth. Most love hotels actually contain an impressive range of the kind of facilities you would usually find in a luxury mainstream hotel. An average room in a mid-price love hotel in a competitive city area would probably have, for example, a large LCD TV and DVD player; tea and coffee making facilities; perhaps a massage chair (they’re awesome!); a jet bath and a power shower; a mini-bar and fridge; karaoke and videogames; sometimes a microwave and usually room service too!
In Osaka for example, you could expect to pay around 6,000 – 10,000 yen a night for this including tax, but there are other options as I’ll explain below. Prices for food and drinks are slightly over average but no more than you’d expect.
Spotting a Love Hotel
Don’t worry about whether you’ll be able to recognize a love hotel from the outside – you most certainly will. They are usually decorated garishly or at least very colorfully and often have themes. Almost always they will say “REST” and “STAY” somewhere out front too, which means it’s definitely what you are looking for. If there are parking facilities, you’ll notice that the hotel provides boards that patrons can use to cover their number plates. They generally look very cutesy from the outside, in keeping with the trend to appeal increasingly directly to women.
Most love hotels in major cities are also located in obvious clusters, where it’s fun to just stroll around and giggle at the names; my favorite is “A Year of Your in Provence” in Namba in Osaka. I assure you that wasn’t a typo!
Another way to recognize a love hotel is that there will usually be a board on the outside with prices for daytime “rests,” overnight stays, and so on.
Most Japanese love hotels have several price options, which can be broken down as follows. Expect to pay 10-20% extra due to the vaguely defined "service charge." Some hotels include this in the price; others don't.
An Overnight Stay
The time you enter the love hotel at night has some bearing on when you need to leave in the morning, and love hotels have different policies for this. For example, one may allow you to enter after 9 pm and leave before midday the following morning. (If you arrived before nine you would have to pay an extra charge.) Another may state that you can arrive after 8 pm and then leave before 11a.m and so on. Some will offer you other options, like arriving after midnight and then having until 3 pm the following day before you have to check out. Make sure to double-check these times before you enter, because it’s easy to be caught out and forced to pay an extra charge.
Stay prices are higher on Friday and Saturday nights.
If you only have time for quick “rest” then you can consider the option of paying hourly, but this can quickly become expensive. If you stay until the “service time” price becomes cheaper, then your rest will automatically be transferred to this flat tariff. If you arrive after the stay time has begun (usually 8 pm or 9 pm) then you could be automatically charged for a full overnight stay.
Service Time / Free Time
Service Time is essentially a flat “all you can rest” fee which applies if you check in and out within certain times. The best prices apply if you visit the hotel in the daytime on a weekday. If you’re a real early bird then at Hotel Raffine in Osaka, for example, you can arrive at 6:00 am and stay until 7:00 pm for less than the cost of a two-hour stay at a premium time.
Love Hotel Procedures
Modern love hotels are usually completely automated. The standard procedure is that you enter the lobby area, where you will be confronted with pictures of all the rooms on offer. The available rooms will be illuminated. Press the button next to the room you’d like. The first number of the room will tell you which floor it’s on. For example, 301 is on the third floor. (If you’re British, that means the second floor).
Head to the elevator and select the floor you want. When you arrive, the way to your room should be lit up or made obvious in some way. If it’s not, you’ll just have to look for it.
Once you enter the room, you might hear an automated message, telling you to insert your members card if you have one. If you will be staying overnight, you need to press the 会計 (kaikei) button. This will probably be the only button you will need during your visit. You then need to insert your cash into the machine, as stays are generally paid for upfront. When you leave, hit the 会計 button again to pay for any extras you used. Movies, TV, karaoke and videogames, for example, are usually all included in the original fee.
If you are only resting via the hourly charge or through service time, then just ignore the message and the machine, and carry on into the room. You can begin your rest now! When you are all rested out, hit the 会計 button and insert your money when you leave. As a general rule, never assume that you can pay by credit card in Japan.
You probably won’t need to speak to anyone if you’re in a fairly large, modern love hotel, but you might need to recognise a few Japanese words to help you make sense of the prices and system:
宿泊 Shukuhaku (an overnight stay)
休憩 kyuukei (a rest)
フリータイム Free time (one flat fee for a given amount of time)
サービスタイム Service time (same as free time)
~ 時間 jikan (~hours)
土曜日 Doyoubi (Saturday)
Monday to Thursday is often abbreviated to: 日～木.
Monday to Friday can be shortened to: 月～金.
If you are in a love hotel where you do need to speak to someone, then these phrases might help:
Shukuhaku shitai desu ga. We’d like to do an overnight stay.
Kyuukei shitai desu ga. We’d like to have a rest.
Maebarai desu ka. Is it pay upfront?
Gay couples are often turned away from love hotels, which is particularly shocking since many Japanese people consider homophobia to be virtually non-existent in their country. There seems to be less of a problem for groups of three entering love hotels. Chances are these threes will involve at least two people of the same sex (am I missing something here?) so the policy doesn’t make much sense. Conflicting accounts of this abound on the Internet, but do expect to pay more if you enter as a threesome, so to speak.
Your Favorite Love Hotels
In Osaka I’d particularly recommend Hotel U’s and Hotel U’s Annex near OCAT and Yotsubashi exit 32 in Namba. They have few rooms with private swimming pools, which are excellent value especially during service time. Also, any of the hotels run by Big Group are fine. Please share your recommendations for love hotels anywhere in Japan. Please keep your comments clean!