Japanese Love Hotels

(also known as Fashion or Couples Hotels)

Japan caters to the high-end traveler, with luxury hotels that put your average Motel 6 to shame. On the other end of the spectrum, you have your no-frills capsule hotels — a place to sleep, bathe, peruse vending machines, not much more. Then there are the love hotels, which we’ve learned offer more than you’d expect (though they offer that, too).

Renting rooms by the hour, partial day, or longer is not a new concept, yet, like all things Japanese, the execution is a little less sleazy, a little more socially acceptable. Probably you won’t want to tell your parents where you’ve been, but in a country (or city, in the case of places like Tokyo) where space is at a premium and not everyone has moved out of Mom’s house, love hotels offer a chance for togetherness.

While we’ve heard rumors of travelers using love hotels as cheap alternatives to other lodging, do not be under any illusions: these hotels cater to sexual trysts. Sex toys and condoms are available in vending machines, mirrors line the ceilings, bathtubs are built for two (more along the lines of Japanese two, but two, nonetheless), some cater to specific sexual pecadilloes. The rooms are chosen and paid for with the anonymity of the guest in mind. Many don’t even take credit cards.

Ranging from functional to funky (the first link below reviews a place that features “Cowntry & Westarn” themed room), the hotels are identified by excessive neon and often unintentionally funny names (Seeds, anyone?). Rooms are chosen from a pictorial menu and amenities vary from establishment to establishment. If you’re seeking a novel experience, be forewarned that Saturday nights are crowded.

Of course, if you’re seeking an out-of-the-ordinary experience, it might not be as easy as you’d expect:

The love hotel is changing though, and the news isn’t all good. They’ve gone upscale, lost some of their sleazy associations and the decors have become more tasteful but the bad news is that in an effort to clean up their image, they got rid of a lot of the exciting theme rooms. Although they still exist, its getting harder and harder to find places with bumper cars and disco lights. (“Love Hotels: Where Have All The Mirrors Gone?”)

Cleaning up the image of the hotels isn’t just for the rooms, either. Love hotels are known by softer euphemisms like “fashion hotels”, “theme hotels”, or even “couples hotels”. Publications detail hotels designed to appeal to women (hey, never let it be said that feminism is dead!). The hotels remain identifiable, of course, by their pricing structure, which is usually three tiers.

Tourists and other travelers have been known to use love hotels as short-term, inexpensive lodging, and from a pricing perspective, love hotels can’t be beat. A quick glance at available room styles will help you decide if you’ve made the right choice. We’ve heard rumors that same sex couples aren’t readily welcomed in many love hotels, though sometimes two women together can slip through.

Capsule Hotels

Japanese capsule hotels, designed for short-term stays, offer little more than a bed. If you’re looking for comfort and space, you’ve come to the wrong place. The target market for the hotels are businessmen who can’t get home. Some amenities, such as vending machines, lockers, and communal bathrooms, are available. Capsule hotels are extremely economical.

A small bed (maybe about six feet in length) fills the capsule. Though is generally sufficient room to sit up and read, this is not a good choice for the claustrophobic. There may be space for a few personal items, but the shelves are shallow, so don’t count on storing things much bigger than your iPod and cell phone. Many capsules have televisions, which can include adult pay channels. Capsules are stacked, reminiscent of bunk beds, and offer screens for privacy.

Many hotels have rules regarding guests (men and women are often in separate areas, if women are allowed at all). Pictures help Western travelers understand the rules of the hotel. Do not expect a quiet’s night sleep, as sound insulation is minimal. Think drunk businessmen who have missed the last train home. Or women at a slumber party.

Cheap Digs

Cheap DigsIf you’re looking for affordable, alternative places to stay overnight, don’t overlook Japan’s numerous internet cafes offering services such as overnight accommodations, showers, food and beverages in addition to the usual internet access, DVD rentals and manga comic books. Some cafes in the cities even have English language books and newspapers. In the town of Okayama where I live, with a population of just 600,000 people, there are at least 4 internet cafes within walking distance from the train station.

Internet cafes can be a great place to stay overnight when you want a central location to catch an early bus or train in the morning, or when you just need a place to crash for a few hours. There are no beds or futons though-you just sleep in a reclining chair in the same room as the pc.

Internet cafes charge by the hour. The one I frequent is approximately 500 yen per hour and you may use any part of the café during this hour (showers, free beverage service, DVDs and internet). Most cafes have an overnight package (“nighto pakku”) costing around 2,000 yen from 10pm to 8am. During this time, you may use all the facilities for this price and may include a continental breakfast. Overnight usually means sleeping in a reclining chair, and blankets are usually available upon request.

How to find internet cafes

Internet cafes can be found on shopping streets or main streets near train stations. These shopping streets, called “shoutengai,” and are usually covered streets closed to traffic. Internet cafes are usually on the second floor and their services can vary widely.

World 66 has a guide to internet cafes in Japan. Do a search for the city you will be visiting and you’ll find links to internet café websites. They also have satellite maps of the area. One chain of cafes is called “Media Café Popeye.”


Some of these cafes are less reputable than others. If a place has adverts for porno DVDs on the walls, you might find more than sleeping is going on in the rooms. Check for cleanliness. Many times the doors on the rooms don’t lock and you may not be permitted to leave the café in the middle of the night. There is an attendant on duty all night but if you are a woman, its best to stay in these places only if you are with someone else.

“Amy Chavez is author of Guidebook to Japan: What the other guidebooks won’t tell you” She is a columnist for The Japan Times, co-hosts the Planet Japan podcast and teaches Japanese online. Visit her website at www.amychavez.com