oasis in the city: love hotels

Love hotel is a generic term to describe hotels that allow short-term stays, as short as a couple of hours. In Japan, you can identify them by the sign that shows two different types of room charges: ‘stay’ and ‘rest’.

santa hotel

Typically love hotels are congregated either in crowded city centers, or by the idle driveways in the countryside not too far from the city. But they are increasingly The [Hotel Love] was in the relatively residential area leading to a long alley of temples in Osaka. There were many love hotels in the neighborhood, but Hotel Love stood out from a distance because of its landmark-quality piece on the roof.

Hotel Love art
hotel love street

The entrances of love hotels are characteristically discreet. It is impossible to see the inside of the lobby from outside. There are many entrances to the building. Once in the lobby, you see the big board with pictures of all rooms. The pictures with backlight on indicate that the rooms are available now. Any good love hotel would minimize or eliminate the need of human contact completely in the check-in/out process. This board with backlights usually spit out the room key when you press the button. This also marks your check-in time. There is a reception window but no one is visible behind it except a pair of hands.

room board

A few rooms are equipped with an outdoor or a very large bath tub at the same room rate. But reservations are impossible at the love hoel so those rooms function as an effective lure for return customers fishing for better luck.

When you go up to the room, the flashing light on top of the room door once again indicates that it is an empty room to be checked-in. The door is lockable only from inside. There is basically no key to the door, i.e., guests are not expected to come out of the room during their rest or stay. There are no common facilities outside the room such gym, restaurant, or lounge area, anyway.

room view

As discretion is a virtue for guests, all conveniences are provided in the room or delivered to the room.

Entertainment. Karaoke machine, TV with all cable channels including a few adult channels, pay-per-view functions, video game console, rentable movie and game DVDs, a mini pachinko (slot) machine, a radio with several music channels
Tools/gears. A mini-bar of sex toys/medicine, a mini-bar of drinks, a range of rental cosupre (costume play) outfits, microwave oven, water boiler with assortment of tea/coffee
Amenities. An extensive range of grooming/beauty/bath products. It is possible to choose from a list your favorite product. Perfumes and cosmetics are also available.
Room service food menu and home shopping catalogue
And of course – a mobile phone charger with a universal plug.

control panel
minibar and charger

The pricing scheme gives a hint as to when the hotel gets most crowded. For short-term rest, extra time is charged at the rate of 700 yen/30 min. And tactfully the presence of any objects that remind of time including the window for natural lights is totally minimized in the room.

room charge

The hotel also provides a taxi service for transporting guests over to its sister chain hotels in case the hotel is full or the guest’s favorite room is not available.

taxi service

The costume play (cosplay) outfits can be rented, at about 300 yen per outfit. Members can rent them for free.


There are also unusual offers like a special cosplay outfit and “toppings” for (on?) her.


This hotel provides a list of freely available shampoos, hair grooming products, facial cosmetics, and perfumes. It is a good contrast to the regular hotels that recently tend to reduce the number of free amenities in the room in an effort to cut the maintenance cost. It is a very convenient service for those who visit the place without any preparation.


To top it all up, there is also a list of pillows and “useful goods” that can be purchased through the room service.


I have not found a reliable explanation where the name ‘love hotel’ came from, but it is undeniable that love hotels have strong connotations of sexual activities. My first experience with a love hotel was in Korea when we had to set up our temporary fieldwork office space in one because of its proximity to the university campus that our local research assistants were from. One of our local research assistants refused to come up to our temporary office because she did not want to be shown to enter the hotel with her male classmate.

Seeking privacy including the need, or desire for having sex, topped up with affordable convenience may be the main reason why people use love hotels, because:
– they have no personal space at home, often because of pure lack of space or cohabitation
– they live with parents which makes it morally unacceptable to bring a partner home without a serious commitment to the relationship
– they are having an affair in secrecy
– they want/can, at the spur of the moment
– they need to kill time till the first train runs. For many Japanese, taxi is too expensive as an option for returning home at night

The traditional notion of its association with prostitution and adultery has made its use a taboo subject. But with such a notion diminishing, love hotels could be expecting an increasing new range of customers including escapism seekers and aging couples, as they provide a much more affordable service compared to normal hotels and are available in their neighborhoods. With Japanese homes being small in size and freezing cold in the winter, love hotels can provide a quick luxury day, or night for tired singles and shy couples alike who cannot afford much time or budget. And perhaps this explains a little why love hotels seem to assume their responsibility for maintaining such a quintessential kitsch atmosphere.

As with their unique positioning in the market, love hotels do not provide any services for real tourists such as bell service or luggage storage. And they do not require you to present your ID upon check-in. The turnover rate for each room decides the profitability of their business. And love hotels are bound to respect their guests’ wish to be anonymous.

These two requirements make a perfect case for challenging a real-time mobile information and reservation network, if the transportation system supports timely arrival at the destination. Another opportunity space could be to control the room and the room service orders with the common interface in the mobile phone, given that the traceability or guarantee for the desired level of anonymity associated with the usage comes with it.

Wikipedia page has a good list of references, if you want to get historic accounts on the phenomena, and some practical information about choosing the right one for you in your next visit to Japan!

6 thoughts on “oasis in the city: love hotels

  1. Steve Portigal

    Thanks for posting the link to your updated blog! We just had an amazing two weeks in Japan (after five years since my last visit)

    I’ve got a lot more to write but some stuff is here

    [Of course I’m sure you know everything I’ve written about anyway!]

    Your Love Hotel post is excellent; I’ve never been inside and always have been curious. We met up with Jan and in addition to reminding me about you (which led me to seek out your blog) he also pointed out that these places are for a break as much as for a liaison. I hadn’t thought about it that way.

    Looking forward to more great stuff from you!

  2. nyuudo

    That’s a complete report about Love-Hotels and social/cultural relation with mobile technologies… really interesting.
    Thanks for coming back to “blogsphere”…

  3. Younghee Jung

    steve – missed the chance to meet you in tokyo!
    thanks for sharing all your observations. i am sure next time we meet, we will make a good discussion over some of these :-)

    nyuudo – thanks for the warm welcome. are you japanese?

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