In a country where it’s common to find three generations living under one roof, privacy for couples can be an issue. This is where the love hotel found its start.
What are love hotels?
Love hotels come with rooms to rent by the hour, or blocks of time, and often offering crazy themes and strange contraptions to suit their patrons tastes.
The internet is fascinated with these themed hotels, which can feature rooms modeled after subways, doctor offices, dungeons, jails and more. It is no wonder that many foreign visitors are curious about these hotels, even if they might be apprehensive.
In the recent decades, however, the love hotel industry has been working on changing their image. The crazy themes have started to die down or limited to a few select rooms (although you can find them if you try hard enough!) and have been replaced with more comfortable, stylish rooms to attract couples just looking for a few hours out of the house.
My interest in love hotels began with my own curiosity in this taboo side of Japanese culture. I decided I would experience one of these crazy themed rooms for myself.
Despite my best efforts to find a "crazy" themed room that lived up to my expectations, the first love hotel I stayed in felt very much like a normal, clean hotel room. If not for the black light and fluorescent spaceships on the ceiling the room itself wouldn't have been out of place in any normal hotel.
Since then, I have visited dozens of love hotels, mostly in Fukushima and Miyagi Prefecture, with a few in Tokyo. Although I've yet to find a truly crazy room, I have never had a bad experience while staying at a love hotel. It's now my ideal choice for lodging when I am out traveling and I know I will be out late and want to sleep in the next morning.
The main point of this guide is to show you another fun side of Japanese culture that isn't just shady dealings and sex. I think love hotels are a great way to travel relatively cheaply and experience a different part of Japanese culture.
Why choose a love hotel?
It may be important to start with noting that love hotels in Japan are mostly available only to a male and female couple. Unfortunately, most hotels will turn away or charge extra for single occupants, two males, or two females. These restrictions depend on hotels, so for those hoping to venture to love hotels, please keep this in mind.
Some great reasons to visit a love hotel:
- Staying out late and want to sleep in? Most check-ins start between 8-10pm and check out can range from 10am - 1pm (average is about noon).
- Relatively cheap - especially in bigger cities, love hotels save you quite a bit of money
- Good for flexible travellers - you don't need to make a reservation, just walk right in and select any room available. If they are full, there is generally another love hotel right behind you across the street (unless it is a small town).
- Luxury amenities and rooms for a great price - While most love hotels have large baths with jets and lights, I have been to many with massage chairs, heated rock floors, and outdoor baths. In regular hotels these types of rooms would run for hundreds of dollars, while at a love hotel these range from 10,000 to 20,000 yen.
- Room service - I have never been to a love hotel that hasn't had room service or at least pizza that can be delivered to your room. The food is the same quality you can find at a family restaurant in Japan, with a similar menu.
- Special deals - Including group rates for Girl’s Night Out. I recently took advantage of this deal, and stayed in a large suite with free food, karaoke and games for only 4,000 yen per person.
- Incredible member specials (only applicable to those who will revisit) - You can easily work your way toward a free stay, great deals on food, and special rewards for your birthday and anniversary.
- Rent by the hour - Perfect for those looking just for a place to take a nap and freshen up for a few hours. Rates are generally the cheapest during the day. I have gotten off the plane and stayed in a love hotel in Tokyo for a couple hours to take a shower and nap before starting off the rest of my day. Renting a few hours is usually around 3,000 or 4,000 yen.
- If you have large luggage, you will have to carry it around until late check in (unless you store it in a locker)
- If you want to stay multiple days, you will have to take your luggage in and out of the room with you each day
- There is always a chance that there are no rooms available, especially in small cities or towns where there are not many love hotels available. However, there are some hotels that offer prior reservations for their popular rooms.
- You (rarely) can leave the room once you have checked in.
- Usually only available to a female / male couple.
How to find a love hotel?
One of the great things about love hotels are the sheer amount that can be found, usually in closer proximity to each other. No vacancies? Walk next door to the next one! You can usually spot love hotels by their unusual or suggestive names. You'll also notice many love hotels have big signs outside their main entrance that list a variety of prices per block of hours.
If you have access to Wi-Fi, you can try searching ラブホテル (rabu hoteru) in a map application to find love hotels that are local to your area. There are also a variety of websites that list love hotels by area, or by what kind of amenities you are looking for such as outdoor saunas, themed, mirrors, etc. Unfortunately these websites, such as Happy Hotel and Couples are only in Japanese. There are also apps available in Japanese, as well.
One of the things Japan is most famous for is its wide range of unique accommodation types. Traditional ryokan, space age capsule..
Prices and Room Types
Understandably prices depend on the love hotel and city that you're in. Even within the same hotel the prices will vary based on the quality of the room, time of day, day of the week, and length of stay. An overnight stay can range anywhere from between 3,000 to 30,000 yen a night, although standards rooms average to around 10,000 yen per night.
On the lower end (3,000 - 10,000 yen) you will find rooms similar to a standard business hotel. However, there are generally more amenities because they do not expect you to pack your toiletries bag. They also usually provide phone chargers in the room (occasionally you may have to call the front desk to have it delivered to your room for free).
On the upper end (8,000 - 30,000 yen) you can expect some nice rooms that even challenge an upper class hotel for comfort and amenities. Outdoor baths and patios, lounge chairs, massage chairs, large sauna baths and more. In my experience, the extra money spent on nicer rooms is well worth it, as these rooms tend to be the greatest value. Similar rooms at chain hotels would probably cost you 2-3 times the price.
When you check in, most amenities are listed for each room so you know what each has to offer. Check out our vocabulary guide (coming soon) on what to Japanese words and phrases to look out for when selecting a room.
How to pay
There are two major types of payment methods, in the room and at the front desk when you check in. In my experience, paying in the room is more common. In order to respect your privacy, love hotels do their best to make sure you don't bump into anyone unexpected, including staff.
There are usually separate up and down elevators so you don't see other guests, and room service is dropped off in the hallway and they ring the doorbell on their way out. In order to prevent people from leaving without paying, most love hotel doors will lock behind you after you enter the room. Before checking in, make sure you have everything you need for the night!
The machines to pay are usually located by the door, and accept cash and credit card (although some take only cash, so be careful). Upon payment, the door will unlock. Please note that to protect your privacy, some love hotels will charge your credit card under a fake name.
Figuring out whether you have to pay at the desk or in the room is simple. If you pay in the room, there is usually no desk. When you enter the love hotel, you'll see a large screen with rooms on it. The rooms that are available will be lit up. You press the button (or tap the screen) of the room you want, and follow the flashing lights to your room.
If there is a desk, it is usually covered by the screen so the only things you can see are the hands taking your money. Although it is uncommon I have been to two or three love hotels that run identically to a regular hotel with an open lobby and staff. While these love hotels might offer less privacy, they provide keys to the room so that you can come and go freely.
To bring it all together, every love hotel works differently, but they all follow the same basic rules. Hopefully as more people realize how great love hotels can be, there will be more articles about specific hotels and rooms, so you can figure out the best locations and rooms for you. If love hotels have peaked your interest, check out important Japanese vocabulary for love hotels (coming soon) and more specific details on how to check in, order room service, and check out (coming soon). I will also post articles for specific love hotels, so you can check out a few real examples of rooms and what to expect. Enjoy!