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The truth about love hotels
This lucrative industry is moving away from its seedy image to be more female and family friendly
'Love hotels' in Japan cater exclusively to 'couples,' offering rooms for both daytime 'rest' or a night-time stay. Okay, let's do away with these pleasant euphemisms: the hotels' unction is for people to escape their normal cramped living arrangements and have sex. Love hotel industry analysts -- and yes, this profession does exist -- estimate between 25,000 to 40,000 love hotels in Japan, with annual revenues of ¥4 trillion. More staggering is this statistic: around 1.4 million couples, or two percent of Japan's population, visit love hotels every day.
The industry was once the preserve of 'mom-and-pop' family owners, and of course, the criminal underworld. But now, 'leisure hotels' have caught the eye of international investors. One of these is Steve Mansﬁeld, Chief Executive Officer at New Perspective, which manages six hotels branded Bonita and owned by Japan Leisure Hotels Ltd.
"It's probably less exciting than running a five-star hotel," says Mansfield about his Bonita chain of love hotels, all of which are located outside Tokyo. "We haven't had any pop stars smash up our rooms yet." Nor, he adds quickly, do patrons leave behind any titillating lost property such as superhero masks or 'equipment.'
In fact, Bonita's guestrooms may sound a bit humdrum. "Our research shows guests want destinations that resemble a 'home away from home,'" explains Mansfield. These rooms, for the majority of Tokyoites, are a fantasy of what a spacious home would be: for example, thick walls instead of the meager 2cm normally separating urban dwellers and their neighbors. Facilities in love hotels include internet access, cots on demand for families staying with their tots in tow, video consoles and karaoke, which is accessed through the TV. And with a nod to the hotel's previous emphasis on 'love,' adult movies are provided as a complementary service.
Love hotels clean up their act
The demand for outlandishly themed love hotels has waned. Sayonara, revolving beds and Graceland influences. Instead the properties supply crisp linen with high thread-counts, biscuit-toned décor with Asian accents and snappy room service featuring quality cuisine. In fact, love hotels -- or 'fashion hotels' as they are also branded -- are now serious competition to Tokyo's five-star luxury giants.
As one General Manager from one of Tokyo's leading international chains revealed on the condition of anonymity, "The truth is our hotel is really nothing more than a posh love hotel. We routinely rent out rooms for daytime use only, mostly to couples who pay cash and almost certainly using fake names."
With basic rates starting at ¥45,000 per night, the high-end hotel in question, situated in one of Tokyo's livelier entertainment districts, is eye-poppingly expensive when contrasted with something like Hotel Aroma.
Two women-friendly love hotels: Hotel Aroma and Baru
Rated as one of the best love hotels in the city by local listings magazine Tokyo Isshuukan, Hotel Aroma (Ikebukuro 2-64-7, Toshima-ku, tel. 03 3988 0890) and its nearby sister property Baru (Ikebukuro 1-3-11, Toshima-ku, tel, 03 5952 4344) in the youthful neighborhood of Ikebukuro exude class. Both have rates starting around ¥4,000 for a four-hour stay and ¥7,800 for an overnight stay. The rooms are easy on the eye: creams with masculine black soft furnishing accents that seem romantic rather than raunchy.
And don't forget who represents the true market. "It's important the rooms appeal to women," explains Mansfield. This means many love hotels now purposely feature female staff at reception (those who you can see, since check-in can often be anonymous) through to offering room amenities, including hair straighteners and an array of cosmetics and hair products that put conventional hotels' stingy offerings (a thimble of shampoo, anyone?) to shame.
Alpha-In: over-the-top and old-school
For proponents of old-school love hotels, do not fear. There are still destinations that will tickle the fancy. Alpha-In (Higash-Azabu 2-8-3, Minato-ku, tel, 03-3583-3655) -- rather incongruously located right next to the Russian Embassy and the permanent site of the Tokyo American Club -- targets the 'hardcore.' With rooms that could have followed decorating cues from Guantanamo Bay, Alpha-In's theme is "anything goes as long as it's consenting."
Room 103, for example, has a medical motif and includes dress up doctor and nurses' costumes and an examination bed. S&M newbies should head to room 204, specifically aimed at beginners. Functional, with a white color theme, equipment on hand includes a restraint chair, 'heaven hanger shackles' and suspension chains.
As Alpha-In and Aroma demonstrate, Tokyo is home to a wide range of love hotels -- all conveniently located near you. The recently developed website Pinki offers basic English search for those looking for the perfect place to get away.