“The Love Shack is a little old place where we can get together….” ~The B-52s, Love Shack
“Hey now, if your baby leaves you, and you got a tale to tell, just take a walk down lonely street , to heartbreak hotel.” ~Elvis Presley, Heartbreak Hotel
“If the house is a rockin’, don’t bother knockin’, just come on in!” ~Stevie Ray Vaughan, The House is Rockin’
Love Hotels are short-stay hotels found around the world operated primarily for the purpose of allowing couples privacy for “adult” activities. The name originates from “Hotel Love,” a so-called establishment built in Osaka, Japan, in 1968 and had what became a famous landmark rotating rooftop love-globe.
The history of love hotels (ラブホテル rabu hoteru) in Japan can be traced back to the country’s early Edo Period, when establishments appearing to be inns or tea houses with particular procedures for a discreet entry or even secret tunnels were built in Edo and Kyoto. Modern love hotels developed from tea rooms (chaya 茶屋) originally used mostly by prostitutes and their clientage, but increasingly also by more mainstream lovers.
After World War II, the term tsurekomi yado (連れ込み宿, literally “bring-along inn”) was adopted, originally for simple lodgings run by families with a few rooms to spare. These enterprises appeared first around Tokyo in part due to demand from occupation forces, and boomed after 1958 when legal prostitution was abolished and the trade moved underground. The widespread introduction of the automobile to Japanese culture in the 1960s brought with it the “motel” and further spread the concept, as did the increased need for privacy as more and more Japanese found themselves living at home with no privacy, paper-thin walls, and with parents disapproving of a more cosmopolitan lifestyle. In such crowded quarters, when the music of love plays, everyone hears the rhythm of its rapture! Such conditions are ripe for love hotels, which offer the epitome of discretion and personal privacy. Thus, in such ways, these motels have become institutionalized, playing an important if not entertaining role in modern Japanese and Okinawan cultures.
But hook-up hurdles also are faced by American service members in the Pacific. At Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, members of the opposite sex are banned in barracks rooms, and hundreds of Navy sailors live in communal berthing areas on the ship where an overnight guest couldn’t fit in their racks — much less sleep over. All of this results in pay-by-the-hour rooms that are available throughout Asian which are a far cry from those in the US – and far cleaner and culturally accepted, too!
On Okinawa there is a “Love Motel Valley” on Route 22 between 330 and 329 in the Awase Valley (near the Awase golf course), where over twenty fanciful love motels literally light up the night sky and dot the hillsides much like a mini Las Vegas…albeit a humid and wooded one. Despite the very forward and often times downright gaudy outward appearance, sublime discreetness is at the very heart of the love motel “experience”. Most establishments are physically designed and outfitted with technology so that customers never see a desk clerk or other visitors, and no one sees anything from the street.
Being cleverly designed for maximum privacy, guests usually exit their cars in a private garage, but only when the solid door goes down and hides your license plate, and which also unlocks the room door; there are no lobbies or other public areas where people can accidentally “mingle.” When one leaves, payment is through a small slit, just big enough to pass money through, while the more modern locations offer vending machines payment in-room, as well as pneumatic vacuum tubes for remote processing (think drive-through bank teller…that you never see). An important point to remember though is that you cannot go back forth between your car and the room; once you’re in the room you must pay to leave; and usually before the garage opens but after exiting the room, there is a quick inspection/inventory of the quarters.
Room prices are advertised at the entrance on a drive-up style menu. Rates are usually based on two or three-hour periods, most referred to as kyukei: “break time” or “rest period.” After the initial stay, rates are increased in thirty minute increments, but overnight stays (Shukuhaku, midnight-7am or there abouts) are also often available.
From personal experience, the motels for the most part are spotlessly clean. Most motels offer different “themes” in each of the rooms, shown on the menu by a serious of pictures; if the picture for the room which arouses you is lit, the room is available! While the hotel’s outward appearance is probably centered on a single and sometimes oddly unique theme, most places offer rooms with décor that varies widely. It’s best – and fun – to shop around before settling. You can literally view tens of rooms in a two or three block area in just 30 minutes. The key is to find, shall we say, your “inspiration.” Are you feeling frisky? Romantic? Mysterious? It’s all there for your pleasure and experience.
Many rooms are stocked with beverages and snacks at fairly reasonable cost. Sometimes you can order full meals for delivery, and on-demand video rental is pretty standard in most rooms (Japanese porn is oddly censored by the “fuzzy” cousin of courtroom TV’s “blue dot), as are vending machines with a wide assortment of adult toys and varied collection of birth control options. Robes, slippers, TVs, VCRs, and karaoke machines are standard equipment and some rooms include saunas, swimming pools, outdoor putting greens, and if you find the right one, whips and some (padded) chains are provided (of course). Language barriers can be a problem, and credit cards are often still not accepted. Bring plenty of yen; the exchange rates are usually terrible –and in essence, are the seediest part of this whole experience!
Most even have a member’s card – just ask for it. I can neither confirm nor deny our participation (wink), but my wallet is suddenly too thick to sit on!
And, if you see my car parked at one, pretend you don’t know me. Enjoy!
Directions to “Love Hotel Alley:” From Kadena Gate 2, take a right onto 85 toward Chatan. Follow to intersection of 23 (gate 5); take a left onto 85. Follow for several kilometers past the military’s Plaza Housing and through the intersection of 330, past the new construction of the mega-mall in this area (there is no more Awase Golf Course!!). Hwy 22 will be almost immediately off to the left; you can also get to it by turning left at the first light once passed 330. Stay on 22; there’s a couple of convoluted twists, but staying straight and taking a left at the T will be put right in the heart of Love Alley. Take a right after the “T” and you’ll see many Love Hotels on both sides of the road as you continue on this road. From Foster, go out the Legion gate and turn left onto 330. At the new construction, take a right; follow directions as above.
Thanks to http://japaneedz.com/lecture/history.html for the cartoon manga version of the history of love motels!!
- Would it be legally feasible to open a Japanese-style love hotel in SF? (ask.metafilter.com)
- Charmed (fareastfling.me)