‘Rub hotels’: Vegas in a box


I made a recent discovery: love hotels! Not dirty, sleazy hotels on the other side of the tracks, but hotels that are cleaner than a “minshuku,” cheaper than a business hotel and located near the main shopping district. What’s love got to do with it? Nothing, necessarily.

While minshuku and “ryokan” may offer a traditional Japanese experience, you can also get a uniquely Japanese experience at a love hotel.

What’s so Japanese about a love hotel? Although love hotels were invented to cater to the world’s oldest profession, and still do, they are not limited to any specific clientele. Almost every Japanese has stayed in a love hotel at one time or another, and for all the right reasons. They’re clean, cheap, and accessible. When you consider that the master bedroom in a Japanese house consists of a futon on some straw mats closed off from the rest of the house by paper doors, you begin to realize there has got to be an alternative. After all, Japan has 120 million people. Where are they all coming from?

With the need to get away, Japanese love hotels offer the equivalent of a Las Vegas getaway without the long flight, jet lag and visa requirements — Vegas in a box! Cheesy, tacky and gaudy — bring it on! From the street, lighted plastic palm trees beckon to you in front of candy-colored, turreted castle walls. Many hotels follow fairy-tale themes, perhaps to encourage you to get in touch with your inner Rapunzel. One love hotel chain has a replica of the Statue of Liberty as its symbol. Come to the land of freedom. Liberate yourself!

The truth is that there is never a love hotel very far away. Some love hotels are small and family-run, while others may have large banners outside advertising cheap afternoon rates. Which makes you wonder, since most people are at work during the day, who are these ads targeting? Ladies who ovulate on their lunch breaks?

Perhaps it is part of some family planning scheme. Wives can send their husband a cell-phone message: “Quick, let’s hit the Louis L’Amour.”

Once inside the hotel lobby, the entire check-in process is automated to ensure the highest level of privacy. No face-to-face interaction with desk clerks. There is nothing stopping anyone from waltzing in, using the touch screen to choose among dozens of themed rooms as if they were karaoke rooms, and then stepping into the elevator that takes you up to heaven.

Once you get into your room, you will see a big-screen TV, a large immaculately made bed and a refrigerator stocked with drinks and amenities. A menu offers reasonably priced food and drink delivered to your room — but even then, you don’t have to open your door and actually make eye contact with anyone. Instead, the food is placed in a special window accessible from the inside of your room, dumbwaiter style. Food and drink is automatically added to your bill at check out — by automated touch screen, of course.

Rooms vary in decor and facilities, but most will have a large Jacuzzi bath, and others may have a TV above it. You may find a slot machine in the corner for some casual gambling between naps. Lighting is infinitely adjustable through a large panel on the wall. Perhaps you have a round bed that rotates with the press of a button. It comes with a remote control in case you should want it to warm up its rotations while you are in the Jacuzzi. Some rooms have wading pools, others have PlayStations, and yet others have the latest high-tech stereo systems. All rooms offer free amenities such as shampoos, soaps and lotions. You could truly live here. Possibly even give birth.

In a country where women are waiting later and later to have children, infertility is on the rise and doctors say stress can inhibit conception, love hotels could be more important than ever. They are one way to encourage the population into copulation.

So while love hotels in Japan promote conception, they remain to foreigners a mis-conception.