Let’s face it, in a pinch any hotel can be a love hotel. All you have to do is walk in with your loved one, rent a room, and, well, let the love begin.
But then there’s the love hotel as official category. It’s the kind of place that calculates its rates by the hour rather than the night, the kind that lets you in without face-to-face contact with a clerk. It’s the kind of place whose decor, layout, and price—in fact, everything about it—are conducive to illicit romance.
The concept of the designated love hotel has found its way into many countries, from East Asia to South America, but its undisputed masters are the Japanese. No other culture works so hard to maximize the fantasy potential of the love hotel, not to mention its intimacy and discretion.
Patrons of love hotels in Japan have a stunning variety of themes to choose from, from high school classroom to Star Wars, Hello Kitty to handcuffs. Nearly every taste and desire, no matter how bizarre, is catered to. And if you don’t arrive with any specific ideas in mind, the hotel can probably suggest a few.
The first official love hotels appeared in Tokyo after World War II, in response to demand from Occupation soldiers. But the business really took off with the banning of legal prostitution in 1958. When car ownership became common in Japan in the 1960s, love hotels often became love motels. Some let guests drive discreetly into a garage in the back, whose door automatically shuts behind them.
Thanks to the unfading popularity of sex, love hotels are booming in Japan, in spite of any economic downturns. In fact, they’ve been called “recession-proof.” One estimate puts the industry-wide revenue at $40 billion!