12 May 2008

Notes from the Underground: A Look Inside the Love Hotel

At first mention of the words Love Hotel, most Americans envision flickering Neon signs and dank walls shedding their paper like dead skin. But, since we’re talking about Japan, this is not the case. Fuse the Japanese obsession with technology and cleanliness, twist in some kinky fantasies and you have the Love Hotel, or Rabu Hoteru. These gigantic, window-less buildings look like they have popped out of a Disney theme park in the shapes of ships and pyramids. Wandering through the maze of private entrances and frosted glass doors, you'll be lucky to stumble upon the reception board since no one is there to tell you where it is. The most important feature of the Love Hotel is discretion; no grimy man handing out keys under a flickering florescent light here. The reception board displays illuminated photos of the rooms they have available and upon selection, illuminate a map to your room. Your room number is also illuminated so you know you're in the right place, which is helpful since you haven't been given a key. But don't worry about someone bursting into your fantasy romance: that sound you hear upon closing the door is the magnetic seal and no one is coming in (or out) until the bill is paid: a security measure that makes you feel like a character from a Murakami book.

The room is pristine and fully equipped with all the necessary amenities: mini bar, video game center, karaoke station and a vending machine filled with toys and edible panties to spice up the evening. While the knowledge that an unknown number of people have "done it" in this room is slightly unnerving, the sheets on the circular bed are pressed and the mirrors on the ceiling are sparkling, so it's easy to shrug it off. Besides, the jacuzzi and bidet being standard equipment in the "LoveHo" makes emerging from your lust cubby less conspicuous.

But now it's time to pay for your evening by turning on your T.V. and selecting payment from the game system's drop down menu. The amount you owe the house then pops up on the screen and you swipe your credit card using that card reader on the wall. If you don't have plastic, no worries. Just use the pneumatic tube to send your yen soaring to the unknown people on the free side of the door. When you get your change and receipt, the door unlocks and you are free from your prison of pleasure.

For those of us more accustomed to space, this might seem like a lot of effort for a lay, but its not surprising that these dens of fornication are so popular among Japanese who haven't given up their love of paper walls. Add onto that the merging of families into common households and the idea of going out to get it on sounds completely reasonable. As real estate prices continue to soar and fewer people can afford the spacious homes to which Americans have become accustomed, you might see this Love Hotel phenomenon trickle into the states.

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