How important are love hotels to Japanese society?

The original, vibrant, yet strange type of love hotels appears to be disappearing. Instead, they are apparently being either abandoned or demolished, only to be replaced by ordinary business hotels. How much should these aging buildings be valued in Japanese society?

What is the love hotel’s influence in Japanese society… ?

Joe Mabel / flickr

What are “love hotels”?

To put it simply, “Love hotels” are fashionable places where men and women can have sexual intercourse in private. These hotels typically have a fee system in place which charges by the hour.

Rest and stay sign on a love hotel in Shibuya, Japan
Steve Boland / Flickr

Many Japanese will commonly refer to “love hotels” as “love ho”, “couples’ hotels”, “theme hotels”, “fashion hotels” or “boutique hotels”. The name “Love Hotel”, according to goods-koubou.com, ‘supposedly came from “Hotel Love”, which opened in Osaka in 1969’.

  There is currently widespread debate over whether to protect love hotels. According to the Telegraph, the love hotel industry is ‘one of the most profitable industries in Japan’. And although modern-day love hotels take on a different form than the older-style love hotels, places like love hotels have actually been around since the Edo period in Japan.

 There are, however, more and more people saying that love hotels tarnish Japan’s image since love hotels are incompatible with Japan’s conservative image and moral values. Love hotels have thus become alienated to a certain degree in Japanese society.

Interesting points to explore when it comes to love hotels are

  • their historical and aesthetic values
  • their social value and colourful sexual setting
  • their value in terms of stimulating the economy

 Bearing in mind that there are, of course, other stances on the topic, I argue that “love hotels” are, in fact, part of Japan’s cultural and social landscape and are important to the future of Japanese society.

Note:

My preliminary comparative study was conducted in 2020, using responses from Japanese youth in their 20s or younger. The 2001 study admittedly uses a wide age range when it comes to its participants, so when comparing to my study in 2020, I calculated the responses from those in their 20s or below and produced graphs based on those figures. If you would like to know more, please go to the second page of this article.


Love hotel’s “grotesque” architecture

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Anti-construction movement

Sineyyo / Shutterstock

  There are a number that find that the architecture of love hotels problematic due to the fact that ignores the urban city structure and, what many deem to be, the essence of Japanese architecture. In the ’70s, ‘sex-related accommodation facilities expanded in the suburbs’1 and were constructed here and there without consideration for the urban spatial structure.

 Love hotels consequently developed a reputation of being an out-of-place kind facility. From the ’80s, anti-construction movements like NIMBY (Not In My BackYard)2 sprang up with the aim to “clean up the environment”3 and ‘wipe away all the filthy, gloomy images of the past’4.

 According to Historian Ichi Abe (阿部・一), the clash between the “world” of the residents and the “world” of the love hotels essentially came about because the two worlds interfered with each other5. Love hotels that had previously been been not so visually conspicuous on the outside, were now visible through their garish exterior, which meant that ‘the disharmony thus became even more tenuous’6. I find that this explanation, however, drastically simplifies the phenomenon.

In Japan, the distinction between “outside” and “inside” forms many socio-spatial structures.

 It was in the ’70s-’80s in particular that love hotels became a visual problem. Love hotels, which are usually considered to be part of the “public sphere” in society, were mixed up and confused with the residential landscape, which is in the “private sphere”. Since then, this disparity in architectural quality has sparked discomfort for quite a few.

Love hotels next to residential area in Japan in rain.
Love hotels next to residential area. Yuya Tamai / Flickr

 Sociologist Castells points out ‘the role of architecture as a means of giving symbolic meaning to the urban structure’7. Following this line of thought, if the “public” (i.e., shops) and “private” (i.e., residential area) areas in a city’s spacial structure are not visually defined, then not only is its physical urban structure muddled up, but so is its symbolic structure. In other words, there would be confusion in the society of said city.

 In Japan, the distinction between “outside” (外, soto) and “inside” (内, uchi) – public and private – forms many socio-spatial structures8. This importance of the urban spatial structure is reflected in the fact that in 1984 the Japanese government and municipalities enacted, and revised in 1985, the Entertainment Business Control Law (風俗営業法, fūzoku-eigyō-hō) to regulate and restrict the location of love hotels, which they did through the use of “zoning” measures (用途地域, yōto-chiki)9.

‘The ideal of compactness and uniformity’ still exists in Japan.

 From an aesthetic point of view, as a rule of thumb, the ‘ideal of compactness and uniformity’10 still exists in Japan since a highly homogenised and standardised living environment is thought to be easy to live in.

 Architect Alexandra Black suggests that the essence of Japanese architecture is related to the aesthetic ideal of “emptiness,” which is rooted in Taoist thought, such as “shizen” (自然) and “mui” (無為) wherein the ‘focus is not on what is physically present but in the imagination’11. Basically, inconspicuousness is the goal.

 Given these values, it is no wonder that the glaringly noticeable architecture of love hotels is considered “grotesque”. When doing a preliminary comparative study based on one in 2001, I found that even in recent years, there are many who do not want to live near love hotels, be it because of aesthetic reasons or to simply preserve the separation of “private” and “public” spheres. From both graph 1.a and graph 1.b, it can be seen that regardless of which era you are in, there are quite a few people who believe that the architecture of love hotels and their advertising are an eyesore since they don’t match the cityscape.


Love hotel’s architecture

history & the function of love hotels

A drawing of passersby outside a deaijaya (an early love hotel) in 1891 in Tokyo. / 風俗画報

  Whilst at first glance it seems that the dodgy appearance of love hotels is eating away at the Japan’s image and reputation, love hotels actually have their own unique history and aesthetic value, which arose from a need to appeal to a customer base. It is doubtful that love hotels would have been built, or would have been so widespread, if there had been no demand for them in the first place.

 Any advertising and marketing with sexual content is, of course, illegal in Japan, so the love hotel’s architecture serves as an implicit message to communicate to passers-by its function as a “love hotel”.

The love hotel’s architecture, however, also has another role.

‘The building itself is a code to others, and this code implies “extravagance”.’

 Love hotel architecture also embodies the tastes and views on luxury of the Japanese people, which have fluctuated over time12. For a long time, there has always been a tendency to try to reproduce the affluent lifestyles of the rich and powerful. And just like how the previous red light districts in Japan, or yūkaku (遊郭), emulated the architecture of the elite in the Tokugawa era, motels in the ’60s typified the lifestyle of the Wester elite, for example through building hotels shaped like castles (Hotel Meguro Emperor, 1973)13.

 The ‘building itself is a code to others, and this code implies “extravagance”‘14. And through the love hotel architecture’s increase sophistication and association with the upper classes, it ‘washes away its ties to the mizushōbai (水商売),’15 or the murky nightlife business, and justifies its existence.

 What’s more, it was not until the ’70s that the middle-class could finally afford to own a house, so facilities like love hotels served as an alternative for those aspiring to buy a home16. Essentially, a love hotel was place where they they could gain temporary “ownership” over a property. Historian Shōichi Inoue (井上・章一) mentions how until around the beginning of the 20th century ‘there were many couples who made love in the open air (in the Imperial Palace Front Gardens)’17.

 This trend of “luxuri-fication” was particularly noticeable after the Ōsaka Expo (1970)18 and the general public’s longing to go abroad or live a life of luxury was reflected in the exterior (and, of course, the interior) of castle-shaped love hotels.

 That being said, in recent years “luxury” has come to be redefined. The style of love hotels became a lot more muted, classy, or “simplified”19.

 There are several reasons that can be attributed to this so-called “simplification” (シンプル化) of love hotels, among them are: the preference for “authenticity” (i.e. clean energy, free-range eggs, second-hand vintage clothing)20; the desire for a Japanese “exoticism” (a boom in the interest of traditional Japanese aesthetics and travelling domestically within Japan)21; and finally the need to appeal to the growing female customer base who didn’t like the outdated “trashy” appearance of love hotels22.

 There was a pull to return to a traditionally Japanese style of “luxury” in particular23, and the NHK documentary TV series “The Silk Road” foreshadowed the ethnic boom of the ’90s where a lot of domestic spots within Japan, such as Okinawa were being promoted as “exotic tourist destinations” instead of places like Hawaii24. The love hotel was reborn as a “ryōkan-like” hotel (or a hotel in the style of a traditional Japanese inn) without a flashy exterior or interior.

The love hotel has value in so far as it is a mirror for the trends in social and aesthetic values within Japanese society.

 Whether it’s due to the love hotel’s changing architecture guided by shifting social values and perceptions of “luxury”, or due to the strict location and building regulations put in place by the Japanese government and municipalities, the resistance to and discomfort towards love hotels are gradually fading away. As shown in both graphs 2.a and 2.b, residents want to maintain the status quo, and this sentiment has increased in 2020.

 In the words of the anthropologist Keita Mizukami (水上・敬太), the architecture of love hotels up to now ‘has produced a special fantasy worldview that is unique to Japan’25. Therein lies its value as a mirror for trends in social and aesthetic values within Japanese society.


Love hotel’s propagation of sexual immorality

Conservative Japan

  The second issue, aside from the love hotel’s appearance, is the fact that there is rising opinion that facilities for sexual activity is immoral and inherently inconsistent with Japan’s conservative image and values.

 As can be understood from graphs 1.a and 1.b, ‘advertisements with sexual content’ often ‘induce negative feelings’ (否定的な感情を起こさせる, hiteiteki na kanjō o okosaseru) among even the youth in Japan. And, according to the study in 2001, the older the participant was, the more pronounced these criticisms became26.

 Criticism has been levelled at such facilities for the negative impact it can have on society – especially children – because it encourages affairs and is steeped by vice27. For this reason, Japanese authorities have repeatedly blocked investment plans of love hotel chains like Shizuoka Aine38.

The open space in front of the Imperial palace and the benches in Inokashira Park became ‘outdoor sex venues for men and women’ and ‘places for normal sex’.

 To explain a bit of the history, the distinction in Japan between “amateur” (i.e., the average couple/married couple) and “expert” (i.e., sex workers) was clear before love hotels came about.

 Since a lot of residential housing didn’t have locks or many walls (and where there were walls, they were paper-thin), places like the open space in front of the Imperial palace and the benches in Inokashira Park became ‘outdoor sex venues for men and women’39 and ‘places for normal sex’. The “Wining and dining” entertainment facilities, or the facilities that were indoors, were recognised as ‘those used by the “experts”‘40.

Open space in front of imperial palace (皇居前広場).
Open space in front of the Imperial palace in Tokyo. kanesue / Panoramio
Benches at Inokashira park with sakura cherry blossoms in Tokyo, Japan.
Benches in Inokashira Park in Tokyo. Kimon Berlin / Flickr

 There was a “love hotel-like” function to sex-related facilities like the machiai (待合, lit. “meeting area where guests gather before the start of a tea ceremony”) or the deaijaya (出会茶屋, lit. “lover’s teahouse”) that the “experts” frequented, but they are not quite the same as the love hotels of today41. In any case, places like these were not really used by ordinary couples, but by sex workers.

There was an implicit distinction between the territory of the “amateur” and that of the “expert”.

 In reality, the real precursor of today’s love hotels was the tsurekomi-yado (連れ込み宿, lit. “inn where you bring your lover to”) that were geared towards “amateurs”42. In the early 20th century, “amateurs” moved from outdoors to indoors, but there was nevertheless still an implicit distinction between the territory of the “amateur” and that of the “expert”.

 A turning point in this development came with the Prostitution Prevention Law (売春防止法, baishun-bōshi-hō) of 1956. As part of its efforts to modernise, the Meiji government during the Japanese occupation adopted the West’s strict moral code43. After the enactment of the Prostitution Prevention Law in 1958, red light districts were wiped from the map, and the “experts” (sex workers) moved from these red light districts to facilities like tsurekomi-yado and enshuku (円宿, lit. “penny inns”) that catered to “amateurs” (ordinary couples)44.

 Apparently, ‘the owners of former establishments in the red light districts (遊郭, yūkaku) inevitably opened shop as ryōkan businesses’ and extra-legal, “camouflaged” facilities instead (ryōkan are traditional, Japanese-style inns)45. It is therefore evident that the Prostitution Prevention Law was limited in its effectiveness in curbing the growth of prostitution and sex-related facilities46. Indeed, rather, it simply complicated the distinction between the territory of the “amateurs” and those of the “experts” since the “experts” were now pushed to frequent areas used by “amateurs”.

When it comes to love hotels, the moral boundaries are blurred and what is morally “right” or “wrong” is only a step away.

 So, in the same way that the work of the “experts” under the Prostitution Prevention Law were regarded as illegal and suspicious, the facilities that they began to frequent (i.e., early love hotels), particularly from the ’50s onwards, were likewise lumped into the same category and seen as shady businesses.

 The imported and repressive sexual moral codes in Japanese society are thus closely linked to ‘the “sexual suppression” of sexually displeasing communities’47, and they still continue to dictate the moral and social value of love hotels today. When it comes to love hotels, the moral boundaries are blurred and what is morally “right” or “wrong” is only a step away.


Freedom and sexual liberation in love hotels

Religion

  While older generations criticise them48, love hotels not only provide spaces free from social constraints, but they also form on of Japan’s subcultures. Certainly, one of the reasons both married and unmarried people go to love hotels is because Japanese apartment walls are paper-thin, so privacy is limited49. I find that this explanation skin-deep at best.

 In fact, when researching, I found that the love hotel’s sexual context and freedom had stronger roots in culture and society than I’d previously imagined.

Morality and the responsibility that comes along with it are temporarily suspended, and a phenomenon transpires called “the criminal’s empathy response” or “space of evaporation”.

 The acceptance of eroticism and the religious history that lies below its surface is unique to Japan50. Festivals such as the fertility festival for instance have a long history. What’s more, it is by no means uncommon to see the coexistence of love hotels and temples or shrines in the same area51. When one thinks Tokyo’s Ueno Kanei-ji temple (寛永寺), it brings to mind the love hotel district of Uguisudani (鶯谷) just adjacent to it.

 Why this strange situation? This is because, following the Tokugawa shōgunate’s policy to organise temples, temples were relegated to the suburbs, which is also where sex-related facilities happened to be. The ‘trade (商売, shōbai), entertainment (娯楽, goraku), and the world of the red light districts (浮世, ukiyo),’ together with the world of ‘worship (礼拝, reihai)’ were then forced into a co-dependent relationship in the suburbs52. The ‘”sacred” (聖なるもの, seinaru-mono) and the “profane” (俗なるもの, zokunaru-mono) were [thus] intrinsically and profoundly bound up together,’53 and ‘sexual desire was [recognised as being] compatible with spirituality’54.

 It was common to visit a love hotel and then cleanse oneself by praying at a temple or shrine. In this way, morality and the responsibility that comes along with it were seen to be temporarily suspended. Anthropologist Sarah Chapman, in her book on Japanese love hotels, notes how the entrance of love hotels plays a specific role where it immerses the guest entering it into another world55. These entrances would often incorporate water features or allusions to water in their decorations (i.e., lights), which would often be echoed in the interior of the rooms. Sarah Chapman explains how the use of water is also reminiscent of the love hotel’s ties to the nightlife business (水商売, mizushōbai, lit. “water trade”) since sex-related facilities in the past had often been located near water.

 This phenomenon of temporary suspension of morality and its responsibilities is sometimes called the “the criminal’s empathy response”56 (犯罪者の共感, hanzaisha no kyōkan) or “space of evaporation”57 (蒸発空間, jōhatsu kūkan). Sociologist Eiko Ikegami (池上・英子) calls these places “no-relation places” (無縁, muen) and “the public world” (公界, kugai)58. Indeed, that is what a love hotel essentially is: a place that has no relation to the outside world.

 At a love hotel when you enter a crazy and unique room with a themes like a jungle, a spaceship, a castle, a black light art underwater world, you feel as if you are entering into another dimension. You can ‘escape, even if only temporarily, from your everyday life’59 and free yourself from the constraints of society. Visiting a love hotel becomes a means of relieving the mountains of tension piled up from the workplace, while also being a place where one can explore one’s own self-identity in a neutral space without influence (or interference) from either family or society.

  • Love hotel UFO Alien rotating bed
  • Egyptian black light art room in love hotel in Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan
  • Chapel Christmas love hotel in Japan
  • Shibuya strawberry jam love hotel sign in Japan
  • Hotel mickey cookies in Japan
  • Love hotel pink and red Hello Kitty BDSM room with piano in Adonis love hotel (Ōsaka, Japan)
  • Hotel Zebra love hotel in Japan with bright neon light at night
  • Twin towers black light art room in love hotel
  • Blacklight art bathroom in love hotel
  • Castle love hotel in Kabukicho, Japan
  • BDSM room in love hotel in Japan
  • Love hotel sign in Japan
  • Rose lips love hotel in Japan
  • Dotonbori love hotel in Osaka, Japan
  • Love hotel room guide panel in Japan
  • Fairytale castle love hotel in Japan
  • Love hotel sign with animals and love hotel vacuum tube payment system
  • Love hotel street in Japan with greek architecture
  • Love hotel jacuzzi in Japan

From the ’80s, there has been a trend in Japan towards experimental self-exploration with the aim of pursing and forming one’s identity.

 From the ’80s in particular, there has been a trend in Japan towards experimental self-exploration (自分探し, jibun-sagashi) with the aim of pursing and forming one’s identity (自己同一性, jikodōitsusei)60. Globalisation of the media and the expansion of the medical industry have also contributed to putting a greater focus on the body and its health and beauty, which means people are becoming more self-aware61. With this “individualisation” (個人化, kojinka), Japanese society is rapidly changing from a family-centred society to an individual-centred one.

 Love hotels and their surroundings are areas that are expected to be ‘places where minorities in society like the social vulnerable and sexual minorities gather’62. In fact, the love hotel district of Kabukichō (歌舞伎町), has been the home of the “blue boys” (ブルーボーイ, a wasei word for “homosexuals”) from the ’60s, and is known to be a hotbed of left-wing politics as well63.

There is a tendency to prefer location restriction methods (i.e., “zoning”) which limits sexual activity to love hotels in the “public sphere”. In so doing, one is able to separate the public and private sphere.

 From both graph 3.a and 3.b, it can be seen that there is a tendency to prefer location restriction methods (i.e., “zoning”) which limits sexual activity to love hotels in the “public sphere”. In so doing, one is able to separate the “public” and “private sphere” (公私を区別する, kōshi o kubetsu suru) to protect one’s own space (自分空間, jibun-kūkan).

 That being said, graph 3.a does indicate that an increasing number of young people are supporting deregulation. The 2001 study, however, shows that the older the participant, the more inclined they are towards more regulation. It would therefore seem that ‘problems arising from inter-generational interaction’ in Japan have been mounting in intensity64.

 As Ho Swee Lin says, love hotels are ‘a part of the cultural landscape of Japan and part of its urban landscape’ too65. Love hotels will surely play an important role in the future from here on out.


The economic circumstances & crime

Deterioration of love hotels over time

  Next, appearance and sexual morality aside, it seems about time to discuss the love hotel industry’s dirty side that is its economic history. Nearly 40 years after the bubble period (バブル期, baburu-ki) when demand had peaked, and with the decline in demand due to the declining birthrate, love hotels are falling into ruin, and the murky love hotel business seems to be in a rut.

 It is a general consensus that it is precisely because of the steadily increasing ageing population and lower demand from couples that Japanese love hotel are suffering from a decline in profits66.

 Statistically speaking, since the enactment of the revised Entertainment Business Control Law (風俗営業法, fūzoku-eigyō-hō) in 1985, the total number of legal love hotels has ‘decreased from about 11,000 to around 7,000’67 from 1985 to 2000.

When broaching the subject of love hotels, there is often talk of their association to the yakuza and prostitution.

 The biggest obstacle to the love hotel’s growth as an industry is its reputation of having ties to crime. When broaching the subject of love hotels, there is often talk of their association to the yakuza – designated organised crime groups – and prostitution. It is not uncommon to hear stories of hidden cameras in love hotels68.

 Because love hotels are suspected to be linked to such criminal activity, banks and other investors are ‘hesitant to dip their toes’69 into the love hotel industry. Moreover, given the fact that it is so difficult to borrow from such financial bodies, some love hotels are said to have been constructed with funding from yakuza black-market loan sharks70.

 And then, in the event that a love hotel owner does get a loan, the debt, taxes and interest rates from it are all extremely high71. As a result, while the ‘gap between healthy businesses and those in a tight spot is ever widening,’72 major hotel groups have entered the market and are expanding their reach.

There have been whispers about how many love hotel businesses are involved in tax evasion and bribery.

 Historically, many love hotel businesses are said to be involved in tax evasion and bribery73. For large corporate businesses such as Nomura Finance, which owns several establishments, the $10 million investment needed to refurbish a love hotel that they can then use as part of a tax avoidance scheme is a relatively small price to pay74. And, according to a survey conducted by the Public Interest Incorporated Foundation (公益財団法, kōekizaidanhōjin), is it common for love hotel operators to ‘set aside about $100,000 in donations to politicians, such as those in the LDP (自民党, jimintō, Liberal Democratic Party),or to their neighbourhood association (町内会, chōnaikai) in order to mitigate any movements or protests that might oppose the construction or refurbishment of their love hotel’75.

 As long as it is suspected that this culture of corruption is still festering in the very closed, tight-knit love hotel industry, the vicious cycle of investors not investing will also continue.

European medieval room with knight in armour in abandoned love hotel
Exploring with Josh / YouTube

 The fact that the cost of running a love hotel is already relatively high, and yet it is also necessary to keep refurbishing it both on the inside and outside to keep up with the changing times, only makes it worse76.

 Essentially, if you cannot afford to refurbish a love hotel, the quality and relevancy of the facility will deteriorate. In other words, if you cannot refurbish your dilapidated hotel, then you will have to reconcile yourself to losing a large section of your clients, which will mean that you will be left with two options: either you ‘carry out a major restructuring of your hotel or you shut its doors’77.

The love hotel industry has a low profit margin and considerable risks.

 Seeing as it takes time to overcome issues such as the ageing population, the lack of investment, and the association with crime, the love hotel industry’s prospects look bleak. The love hotel industry thus not only has a low profit margin, but also has considerable risks.


The current economic situation

Towards a bright, hopeful future for love hotels…

Promotional posters for 2020 Tokyo Olympics in the metro
Masaru Kamikura / Flickr

  In light of the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympic games, love hotels might well be important tourist destinations and an important way to stimulate the Japanese economy. After the economic recession in the ’90s, especially post-2003, the Japanese economy is finally showing signs of recovery78.

 Love hotel industry figures are notoriously difficult to obtain79, but according to the Central Intelligence Agency in 2007 (中央情報局, chūō-jōhō-kyoku), the love hotel industry accounted for about 1% of Japan’s GDP in 200480, and the industry’s annual revenue is estimated to be about 2-4 trillion yen (around $18-37 billion)81. The industry magazine “Leisure Hotel” reported that ‘the love hotel industry is the highest tax-paying industry, with the gambling industry (パチンコ, pachinko) hot on its heels’82.

Whereas the love hotel’s legal definition had been quite ambiguous before, from 1985 “love hotels” were given a legal definition under the Entertainment Business Control Law. This proved to bring about a ‘destigmatising social effect’, and helped to wash away the love hotel’s tainted past and justify its existence.

 As to the exact number of love hotels in Japan, it is difficult to say whether the figure ‘7,000’ is truly accurate83. “Extralegal” love hotels (that is, love hotels which narrowly miss the legal definition given to love hotels under the 1985 law) and ordinary hotels that have been converted into love hotels are overlooked in these statistics84. Contrary to what one might believe, it is actually quite easy to bypass the 1985 love hotel building regulations. The legal historian Mark D. West points out that the true number of love hotels has actually increased nationwide in Japan85.

Ana Sobu / Ana A Raisin

 The ’80s was a turning point for the love hotel business. Whereas the love hotel’s legal definition had been quite ambiguous before, from 1985 “love hotels” were given a legal definition under the Entertainment Business Control Law (風俗営業法, fūzoku-eigyō-hō). This proved to bring about a ‘destigmatising social effect’, according to Mark D. West, and helped to wash away the love hotel’s tainted past and justify its existence86. In other words, love hotels came to be recognised by the Japanese as a fully legal facility.

 The result was that the love hotel’s image of being illegal and dirty was washed clean, and it became possible to break the psychological “wall” that existed for both investors and customers, which allowed love hotels to increase and diversify their customer bases87.

 Additionally, the participation of foreign companies like MHS interested in investing in the industry has made the love hotel business more attractive to domestic investment bodies88. This broke the vicious cycle of investors not investing.

In recent years, love hotels have not only been used for sex, but also as venues for women’s parties and karaoke competitions.

Menu at the Rusticana hotel (Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture). MMCTV ch / YouTube

 At the same time, the love hotel industry which is expanding its range of activities in response to customer demand, has potential for growth in “leisure” areas. In recent years, love hotels have not only been used for sex, but also as venues for women’s parties89 and karaoke competitions90, with many love hotels offering cheap “ladies’ plans”. At the moment, the current business format does not just include “love” but also “leisure,” with many hotels reflecting this in their name choices (i.e., Hotel Atlas, Hotel Bali, Hotel Christmas, Hotel Mermaid, Hotel Birthday kiyosu, Hotel Chapel Coconuts Hirakata, Aloha Inn Aine, Hotel Carnival, Hotel & Spa Siesta, Hotel Farina Dolce, Hotel Oasis, Magical Pumpkin Secret Garden leisure hotel)91.

 While before love hotels were alienated to the point that less than half of them appeared on the map, in recent years love hotels are been featured on multilingual online websites like Almex and booking.com that deal with accommodation bookings92. Many foreign tourists are fascinated by ‘Japan’s strange places,’ considering places like love hotels to be a unique part of “Japanese culture”93.

Love hotel by a river with Sakura cherry blossoms in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan
Manabu Itoh / Flickr

 With regard to the Japanese government’s plan to attract 60 million tourists by 2030, the love hotel should certainly be promoted as one of Japan’s unique, well-kept secret spots94. In doing so, the Japanese government will be able to increase Japan’s attractiveness to tourists.

What we have seen so far of the love hotel industry‘s potential barely scratches the surface.

 In fact, from the perspective of revitalising the economy, the tightening of regulations for love hotels, as proposed in the 2010 amendments to the Entertainment Business Control Law, could actually be counterproductive95.

 Although there are many overlapping issues facing Japanese society and its economy, what we have seen so far of the possibilities available to the love hotel industry is just the tip of the iceberg.


So, in conclusion…

Old Japanese love hotel transition into a new business hotel, with two photographers
Ana Sobu / Ana A Raisin

  Ultimately, the trends one can see in the changing exterior and interior of love hotels can be indicators for: the Japanese concept of “luxury” and their tastes; the Japanese sexual awareness and their concept of “morality”; and the recovering Japanese economy. Love hotels should be acknowledged not only as important places from a historical and artistic or aesthetic point of view, but also in terms of cultural and economic factors.

 This exploration into the world of love hotels also highlights various issues, such as: the distinction the Japanese make between “public” and “private”; the construction of “morality” in society; intergenerational issues; the shift to an individual-centred society in Japan; and the link of the love hotel industry to crime.

 From another angle, the love hotel industry has a sparkling bright future. Love hotels are undergoing “simpli-fication” and “leisur-fication” to appeal to the times and this might just prove to be important for a Japan aiming to being a ‘tourism powerhouse among developing countries.’

 Although love hotels seem to conflict with Japanese culture, it is also possible to view love hotels as a kind of socially constructed existence that elevates art to further heights in producing a peculiar side to Japan’s sexual history and hospitality.

 Love hotels have their own distinctive development pattern, making them symbolic of Japan’s “galapagosization” (phenomenon of companies becoming specialised in developing products for the domestic market) and the products truly unique to Japan. Therefore, in order to establish the uniqueness of love hotels in the global market, it is imperative to think of ways to protect it as a national heritage site.


Recommended further reading and sources :

Featured image : Ana Sobu / Ana A Raisin

English :

Alexandra Black, The Japanese House: Architecture and Interiors, (Tuttle Publishing, 2000)

A. Pritchard and N. Morgan, ‘Hotel Babylon? Exploring hotels as liminal sites of transition and transgression,’ Tourism Management, 27:5, (2006)

Bai Gao, ed. By William M. Tsutsui, ‘The postwar Japanese economy’, A companion to Japanese history, (John Wiley & Sons, 20 Jul 2009)

Becky Moore, ‘Top 20 cool and unusual hotels in Tokyo 2021‘, Global Grasshopper, (28 Feb 2021)

Cecilia Segawa Seigle, Yoshiwara: The glittering world of the Japanese courtesan, (University of Hawaii Press, 1991)

Claudia Hildner, Small Houses: contemporary Japanese dwellings, (Walter de Gruyter, 2012)

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