Japan Has Hotels Designed for Marathon Sex
We didn’t know why our taxi driver was giggling. We had just arrived to Kyoto from Hiroshima by bullet train. It was a whirlwind 10-day introductory trip to Japan, bouncing around by high-speed train, sopping up all the salty ramen broth we could find, and ticking heritage sites off of our bucket list. By the time we arrived to Kyoto over Thanksgiving weekend we were exhausted and cranky. Not to mention it was prime leaf peeping season and every single hotel in Kyoto was sold out forcing us to stay a solid five miles out of town in something we found on Booking.com called the Fine Garden Hotel, an adults-only hotel. Suffice it to say, our cab driver’s mysterious source of chuckles was getting on our nerves.
After a solid 25 minutes zipping by all the more centrally located hotels that had declined our business, we arrived to an industrial, desolate area of the city - the Minami district. It was dark, save for a brilliantly lit building reminiscent of an events hall that hosts gaudy Italian or Russian weddings. Our cab driver pulled under the porticochere and turned around with a hand over his mouth stifling his laughter. He pointed to the door of the Fine Garden, looked at me and my companion, and drew a heart in the air with his two pointer fingers. We were staying at a Love Hotel.
“Japanese Love Hotels provide a quiet, comfortable, anonymous space for consensual sex to take place,” says Eric M. Garrison, a clinical sexologist and author of Mastering Multiple Position Sex. In Japan it is quite customary for extended families to live together under the same roof, and it is even more common nowadays for adult children to return home in their late 20s. “With paper thin walls and overcrowding, and now with Boomerang kids living with their parents, it is understandable to see why youth would need a place that rents in three-hour increments.”
These hotels, which are prevalent across the entire country in the major cities, are designed specifically for discreet sex. You can pay by machine, or via a receptionist who sits behind a frosted glass window, there are no windows in the rooms, and some even have license plate covers to protect the identities of their guests’ cars. But unlike what this image implies, a Love Hotel is far from a seedy experience. In fact, it was actually one of the better hotel stays I’ve ever experienced.
Since we booked via Booking.com and it was high season for Kyoto, we were met by an actual receptionist who promptly took our payment for three nights (unheard of for Love Hotels) and showed us up to our room. There was a small vestibule before we actually entered the bedroom with a small dumbwaiter, supposedly for room service so that once we were tucked nicely in the confines of our room, there would be no need for human interaction. Inside the spacious room had all the makings of a fairly luxe hotel stay: comfy bed, clean linens, massive flat screen tv, mini bar, Jacuzzi for two. But it was the details that made it overtly sexual: bath gels with names like Gentle Lover, a Love Box with condoms and lube, and a mechanism next to the bed that looks like that contraption your mom once told you was her “neck massager.” Beyond these, there was a slot machine, a karaoke machine, and the thickest room service menu I’ve ever seen - all to ensure that our time would be best spent indoors.
“Love Hotels have been a staple of Japanese society since the 1960s. These specialty hotels rented rooms by the hour for the satisfaction of any and every type of carnal delight,” says Lawrence A. Siegal, a clinical sexologist and certified sexually educator. “Married couples, bosses and their mistresses, prostitutes, fetishists, adolescents wanting to hook up, all found a convenient escape to indulge their deepest desires in complete privacy.” But unlike the “no tell motels” of the U.S., Love Hotels value cleanliness and comfort just as much as anonymity and novelty.
And just like sexual preferences, there are Love Hotels to fit all types of moods. “These hotels are usually custom made and can be anything from a regular-looking hotel room to any sort of novelty,” says Sara Nasserzadeh, PhD, social psychologist and relationship/psychosexual consultant . “Some look like helicopters inside, others are designed like trains or schools. Some are specifically designed for BDSM. There are some Love Hotels that are so well hidden you don’t even know they are there. Whatever you desire, there is a Love Hotel to suit.”
Whatever your opinion might be on Love Hotels, the truth is they are on the decline, and the government of Japan is looking to make them more mainstream to use as alternatives to name brand hotels. The decline in need for Love Hotels speaks to the changing society in Japan, especially among millennials, who are having less and less sex lately. In fact, the Japanese government is actually funding speed dating to help combat the rapid decline in reproduction among the younger generations. “Between the reliance on technology, even dating online avatars and sex robots, and an apparent ‘failure to launch’ that characterizes much so this generation, a third of Japanese youth are entering their 30s with no sexual experience and no desire to be in a relationship, much less get married,” says Siegal. He also attributes the decline in Love Hotels to the rising number of youth who are getting their own apartments, so the needs for this type of discretion is no longer relevant.
Still, for the time being, Love Hotels represent a very real part of Japanese culture and history. I mean, let’s be honest, we’re all getting it on in regular hotel rooms. Love Hotels just skip the foreplay.
Note: A version of this story appeared in Men's Health. None of these images are my own.