Love in the modern times

Shrinking living space and an ever-increasing population has given rise to an interesting category called “love hotels”, where couples can share some private time. The enterprising Japanese have turned this amazing hospitality industry into a booming business, writes Marianne Johnson

IN the metros all over the world, accommodations are overcrowded, often with three generations (grandparents /parents/ grandchildren) staying in the same minuscule flat. This leaves a lot of young couples looking for places to spend some private moments. Love life becomes nearly impossible for such couples (married or unmarried). To cater to their needs, many so-called "love hotels" have sprouted all over the world.

Tokyo’s Shibuya is famous as the “love-hotel” district
Tokyo’s Shibuya is famous as the “love-hotel” district

These places are without windows to protect the privacy of clients
These places are without windows to protect the privacy
of clients

There is a detailed guide, giving information about the best in this industry all over Japan
A street in Shibuya, where such hotels are lined up on both sides

But nowhere have they been so well organised as in Japan. The ‘love-hotel’ industry is one of Japan’s most profitable. It accounts for more than $ 36 billion (Rs 18,000 crore) a year. Supporting this industry are 30,000 "love hotels" nationwide, providing places for the 500 million visits that take place each year. Some 1,370,000 couples use a "love hotel" daily (1 per cent of the total population of 127 million people on any given day). A research project has calculated that half of all sex in Japan takes place in a love hotel, and that consequently a large part of the country’s population is conceived in one. It has been estimated that customers fall into three categories: married, just dating, and adulterous. Their demands, however, are all the same —a short-term freedom, away from their crowded, nosy homes.

Other countries have their "love-hotel" equivalents — South Korea, Singapore, the Philippines — but these are not often of the same calibre as those of Japan’s, where the "love-hotel" establishment is not only geared to provide security and quiet, but also to create an atmosphere that is romantic (even catering to wild fantasies).

Some "love hotels" have multiple complex entrances designed for the discretion of customers. One can drive into the parking lot of such places without attracting attention.

The entrances to these parking lots are covered with long cloth fringes to thwart prying eyes. Various types of pull-down or clip-on devices for covering car licence plates are also available to protect against jealous spouses.

On entering the hotel, just inside the door, in what would otherwise be a hotel lobby, you’ll probably find a menu wall. It’s like a big vending machine; only you are getting a room instead of a candy bar. This wall will have lots of photos of rooms, some of them are lit up and some are darkened. If it is lit up and visible, the room is available right now.

In terms of privacy, the most impressive "act" is probably the ability to check in and out without interacting with anyone. Each such hotel has more or less the same check-in procedures. Between the options "Rest" or "Stay" during check-in, select "Rest"for a short stay, and "Stay" for an overnight experience. Rates range from $50 for a two-hour rest to a reasonable $120 for an overnight stay. Various discount fares and special offers are available after 3 am and at daytime on weekends. In contrast to the usual two- or three-hourly rates in the rest of Japan, Tokyo area "love hotels" also provide a one-hour bargain fare for use during the day.

"Love hotels" are not something you can book ahead of time for a vacation, as they don’t have websites. You pay one price to get in and you pay again if you come back. It is important to know the rules in advance.

There is a detailed guide, giving information about the best in this industry all over Japan
There is a detailed guide, giving information about the best in this industry all over Japan Photos: MF

1. Check to see if the rooms are available. An electronic screen will tell you the number of rooms and display the interior of the rooms that are vacant.

2. Choose the one you like, and make your way towards the room.

3. At the entrance, insert money (Japanese Yen notes) into a computerised lock. The computerised concierge greets you with a friendly "hi, long time no see, what’s new?" reminding you to ‘come’ more often.

4. The door would then open and that room number would disappear from the screen at the entrance.

5. You should now be safely inside the room!

The rooms themselves vary greatly. Some are merely functional. But increasingly, these hotels are focusing on the preferences of women, gradually becoming more clean, cute and friendly. As a result, their respectability is also increasing — visiting a "love hotel" doesn’t seem to be a source of shame, though maybe it depends, who you go with. The philosophy is to attract girls, because the guys will follow anyway!

The interior of the room is equally high-tech. They come equipped with electronic facilities, such as a wide screen video karaoke that has a fully remote-controlled sound system with dozens of music channels and a wide-screen TV that features soft porn. Creative soundtracks, such as the "train station soundtrack", are available to help counter the boss/spouse, when you call to say that you will be late.

Leaving the hotel is even more low-key than the entrance. Separate entrances and exits are provided for couple, who wish to leave separately.

"Love hotels" in Japan are now aiming at a younger crowd or couples looking for a four-star hotel experience at a two-star price. Running a "love hotel" is no longer a family affair, and is anything but a small-scale business. In general, there is a cheap, dirty feeling about the name "love hotel," so most places don’t use it today, but prefer something like "leisure hotel" or "boutique hotel". As a result of progressing technology, combined with the fickleness of a clientele, who quickly loose interest in familiar things, hotel owners are forced to update and change the images of their hotels once every two or three years to stay in the game. To build a perfectly equipped hotel today costs the owner a crippling $ 6 million. This means that most traditional city centre "love hotels" have to fight to earn their monthly survival target of $6000 (minimum) per room.

As such, despite their improvement and going more mainstream, the number of "love hotels" is declining. Yes. There are less than half as many as in the 1980s. — MF

(By arrangement with Albion Features of the U. K.)