Rabu Hoteru: Lost in Japan’s Love Hotels

When living in Japan as an English teacher, I made a long list of “must try’s” while I was immersed in such a completely foreign environment for the year. From sampling raw horsemeat and chicken butt, to sleeping in a capsule hotel, singing karaoke in a private booth until the wee hours of the morning and of course, spending a night in a love hotel, the list contained elements of shock, horror and pure joy.

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The Lay of the Land

For those unfamiliar with Rabu Hoteru’s, or Love Hotels, they are a type of short-stay accommodation in Japan, meant to allow two individuals the privacy for ”¦ intimacy. There are neighbourhoods in big cities like Osaka and Tokyo, where the streets are lined with love hotel after love hotel, usually close to train stations, near industrial districts or in the city outskirts. They’re typically identified by kitschy love symbols or flashing lights on the exterior, sometimes shaped like castles, boats or other “romantic-themed” architecture styles (read: cheesy).

Castle of Love, Tokyo
Castle of Love, Tokyo © randomidea

When checking in, the entrances are very discreet with minimal personnel, often one individual sitting behind a panel of frosted glass who can’t see you and vice versa. This provides total discretion for those wishing to remain anonymous, in case of taboo relationships (think teacher/student affairs, etc.) that don’t wish to be given away by the town gossip. You can choose to pay by the hour ””diplomatically labeled a “rest””” or for the full night, no reservations required.

When in Japan, (Try to) Do as the Japanese

I thought a group of friends of mine would be able to stay in a love hotel for the weekend. As we were always travelling when not working in the classroom and our adventures took us all over the country, meaning many nights spent on friends couches, hostels and hotels.

My first attempt at staying in a love hotel was shot down when the owner saw we were two young (foreign) females. After one late night rooftop beer garden, I was perusing accommodations in the city of Kobe a week after I had arrived, trying to find a warm bed to sleep in for the night. My female friend and I left the larger group, in search of accommodations for the two of us and found this kitschy looking hotel down a side street, near the main train station.

Upon entering the building, we noticed something was a little off, and deduced from the classy interior design that we were in our first love hotel. For whatever reason, the owner thought we were up to no good and through some broken English-Japanese-English conversation, we understood we were not welcome. We ended up sleeping in a pay-by-the-hour karaoke booth that night.

When in Japan, (Try Again to) Do as the Japanese

My second attempt at staying in a love hotel was with a larger group of friends, all girls once again. We were in Osaka after (another) late night of drinking and when it was time to head back to our regular capsule-hotel, we opted to try something different. On the walk home, we found a pleasant-looking love hotel that offered cheap overnight-rates, so we went inside and found a vending machine where you paid for your key, offering the choice of what style room you desired and for how long. We were almost done with the vending machine transaction, when someone must have spotted us on some secret camera, because an old woman came rushing in, shoo-ing us out of the hotel even before we had time to explain we were legitimate! “We just want a room for the night,” we pleaded! Since when do people discriminate against a group of five girls just looking to have ”¦ fun? (or in reality, a nice warm comfy bed for our inebriated selves). We ended up back at our local capsule hotel, still a unique form of lodging but not nearly as fun.

Love Hotel Display in Shibuya, Japan
Love Hotel Display in Shibuya, Japan © WordRidden

From the Sublime to the Really, Really Ridiculous

The best part about love hotels, is their range from traditional bedrooms to the far-out fantasy rooms, such as Hello Kitty S+M room, The UFO room, the Jungle Room, the Doctors ”˜office’, the Subway ”˜train’, the Prison room and the Basket Chair room where a chair is suspended from the ceiling and it has a hole at the bottom so that you can spin your partner ”˜round n’ ”˜round while ”¦ ok, you get it. These rooms range in varying levels of strangeness and cost, but will always be able to fulfill virtually any fantasy.

Having a venue to live out your wildest of fantasies may no be something most North Americans are not familiar with. This is because many Japanese live with their parents until they are married, meaning sometimes there are three generations under one roof, only separated by paper-thin walls. Privacy takes on a whole new meaning and love hotels, crazy kinky themed or not, offer a place of escape, with porno channels on the TV, bowls full of condoms throughout and a ”˜come early, stay late’ policy, allowing couples the ”˜alone’ time they don’t often get at home. So while some people visit love hotels for the pure novelty of staying in a snow-chamber Arctic Room with their partners, others find it a reliable, affordable and accessible escape from their over-cramped homes. Who knew love hotels could serve as multi-purpose?!

For Future Reference

In case you are planning a trip to Japan, here’s a handy little list of some Love Hotels I came across in my “research”:

Gang Snowman

Osaka, Tennoji-ku, Ikutamateramachi 4-4
Tel. (06) 6772-1414.

Belles Des Belles

Osaka, Tennoji-ku, Ikutamateramachi 5-1
Tel. (06) 6779-1122

Hotel U’s

Osaka, Chuo-ku, Dotonbori, 2-3-14
Tel. (06) 6211-5199

Hotel Pamplona

Osaka, Chuo-ku, Dotonbori 2-4-11
Tel. (06) 6212-4615


Tokyo, Shibuya-ku, Dogenzaka 1-17-9
Tel. (03) 3780-3211

Hotel London

Tokushima-ku, Nishi-Ikebukuro 2-38-8
Tel. (03) 3984-0511

The Rock

5-3 Kami-Sanomachi, Takasaki, Gunma Prefecture
Tel: 027-325-6969


3-5-25 Sanno, Nishinari-ku
Tel. (06) 6632-0050.

All the love hotels in Shibuya, Tokyo


So while my curiosity and interest with love hotels still thrives and “Love Hotels” by American photographer Misty Keasle, is definitely on my wish list this winter, I must admit that I did eventually get my night in a love hotel ”¦ but I will save that story for another time.

  1. What an adventure. Who knew it’d be so tough to stay in a love hotel? They seem so reputable–very different than unofficial love hotels I’ve encountered in other countries. Leave it to the Japanese!

  2. Oh crap, I am headed to Japan in January and I think I just got a new item for my todo list. Thanks, I think.

    ps: gang snowman is a fantastic name!

  3. Nice story, Amy; I would love to hear about your actual experience, assuming it’s not too personal. I can’t believe they shooed you out of the vending machine love hotel.. I wonder if they’d do the same to a non-Japanese couple, or one Japanese, one non-Japanese? Maybe just assumed you were tourists… and love hotels are trying to be discreet.

    If you find a map of any in Fukuoka, let me know; I tried to check out a few there, but never saw any near Tenjin.

  4. A love hotel is for a couple to do the naughtiness. You just with other girls they maybe assumed you were Russian hookers, or even American hookers I don’t know.

  5. love hotel have a age limit to enter ? i’m 18 but i’m worried if we could go in love hotel ? my bf is now 19 thanks .

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