Satellite of Love: Vanishing Beauty of Japanese Love Hotels

Love hotels, nowadays they’re calling them “fashion hotels,” they’re calling them “boutique hotels.” What times are these we’re living in?

We Japanese are generally reputed to be “good at copying,” yet for some reason we seem to exercise the highest level of erotic originality in the world. From sopu “soaplands” (bathhouses) and imekura “image clubs” (costume role-playing) and deriheru “delivery health” (call-a-massage), mainstays of the sex-hire industry, to hi-tech adult toys, to lust-and-violence manga comics and pick-a-girl fuzoku magazines, the Japanese creative spirit would seem to be fixated on things erotic. And of course, there’s interior design’s erotic “true north”, the love hotel.

Hotels designed for sex are to be found all over the world, not just Japan. That much said, far a field from your basic room for a fast fuck, where else in all the world would you find places that let you watch your partner bathe in a clear bathtub while you laze on the revolving circular bed, or try out that “see-saw with so many different uses.” The fundamental principle here being, lest we forget, while that which perfectly fulfills the required function is craft that which exceeds requirements and achieves the realm of useless unmeaning is art.

Seeing all this what-the-hell-is-this-for? love hotel equipment, you might imagine we Japanese went to great lengths for our sexual enjoyment. How it all came to this is a bit of a mystery. It’s not that we Japanese are oversexed or particularly so much stronger on our sensual pleasures. Nor do we even take sexual functions so seriously, but rather simply that this “sex is something else entirely” attitude is in our genes.

Yet for all the creative ingenuity, these love hotels are rapidly disappearing. Maybe even becoming extinct. One reason being that young people no longer go for these old-fashioned interiors, but the real killer is the New Public Morals Act, which governs the operations and standard practices of sex-related businesses.

Beds that revolve or vibrate, or see-through partitions between bed and bath areas, or “mirrored rooms” with mirrors larger than 1 square-meter–that is, any and all places equipped with “facilities not required for the basic purposes of guest lodging fall under the rubric of sex-related businesses, not hotels and inns.

This “sex-related” label means no operating outside of areas that are specifically zoned for sex-related businesses. In Tokyo, for instance, that limits things to four tiny neighborhoods. In other words, it is now illegal to run a “hotel equipped with love hotel-like facilities” anywhere outside these districts. Moreover, as a sex-related business there are periodic health checks, supervision by the local public security committee, and no refusing access to the police. Not surprisingly, hotel managements now tend to tone down love hotel-like interiors in order to make the grade for the ordinary guest-lodging category.

Outside the above sex-business zones there are still love hotels that keep their old-time fancy interiors. But should they remodel even just once, their permits would be on the line. They’d have no choice but to wallpaper over the mirrors, take out the revolving beds, and make the place look like an ordinary city hotel. Conversely, as anyone who’s ever been to one knows, today’s love hotels now have “front desks,” despite the fact that room selection is usually done from photo panels and payment is fully automatic. It’s just that getting around the New Act demands adding such non-essential features, and even hotel restaurants too. Ridiculous.

If the whole point of love hotel design lay in constantly revamping the interior decor and so as to never bore the clientele, the New Act does nothing so much as choke that very spirit cold. For this book, I sought out traditional old-style love hotels to photograph largely in the same spirit as tracking down as endangered species. Whenever I contacted any management to ask permission “to photograph these valuable designs for posterity,” they invariably responded very positively. In most cases, the owner-managers themselves had the ideas, ‘Let’s do this room like this’, so they take great pride in their hotel interiors and indeed love all the special touches.

Round beds, mirrored walls and ceilings, rainbow-colored shaggy carpets–“forbidden” design elements all, everything to tint our Japanese blood and breath a horny shade of pink. Maybe there’s even a love hotel like this still barely surviving near you (if you live in Japan, that is!) Even without over-nighting, at the few thousand yen “daytime rate” why not have yourself a brief “close encounter” with another world?

But better hurry, before another one goes and you realize too late what’s been lost.

Kyoichi Tsuzuki

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