|By Kanako Takahara, Japan Times,
TokyoMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Oct. 16, 2007 - --In any town bigger than a hamlet, you are
sure to find a patch of gaudy hotels styled after rococo palaces,
Grecian temples, even rocket ships. Some sport a miniature Statue of
Liberty on the roof, others lurid neon signs.
These are, of course, Japan's ubiquitous love hotels, where
couples engage in passions of the flesh. Some Westerners may find such
enterprises morally offensive, but in the past few decades they have
become a natural part of the urban landscape, growing into a market
difficult to ignore.
Following are questions and answers about love hotels:
What exactly is a love hotel?
It is an establishment specifically offering rooms for couples
to have sex. It usually offers two charges: a "rest" rate charged by
the hour, often starting at around Â¥3,000, and an overnight
"stay" rate, typically available between 10 p.m. and 10 a.m., that can
run from Â¥6,000 to Â¥30,000 -- the price of a
regular hotel. Many love hotels keep interaction between staff and
guests to a minimum, and in many cases, rooms are selected by pressing
a button in the lobby on a machine that provides a picture of how the
room is appointed and its rate. Payment can also be made by machine,
thus making discretion the order of the day. Rural love hotels even
feature drive-up entries so customers can avoid the lobby altogether.
Love hotels are also called leisure hotels, boutique hotels, amusement
hotels and fashion hotels, to water down their carnal image.
How many are there and how
big is the industry?
Experts say there are about 20,000 to 25,000 love hotels, but
because many are in the same legal category as nonluxury business
hotels, their number is difficult to pinpoint. Sogo Unicom Co., which
publishes the love-hotel trade publication Leisure Hotel, says annual
sales total Â¥2 trillion to Â¥3 trillion. A
successful love hotel rakes in Â¥800,000 a month per room,
while the average is about Â¥400,000 a month per room in
urban areas. A survey of 187 owners of love hotels compiled by Sogo
Unicom in April showed that on average, 2.4 couples use a room per day.
Is there more than one
category of love hotel?
Legally, there are two types: out-and-out love hotels and
those that fall under the heading of business hotels. Under the Adult
Entertainment Businesses Law, establishments are registered as love
hotels if they offer accommodations, including short-stay "rests," for
one person or, in the case of couples, a man and a woman. Such inns
lack lobby space and restaurants and provide "facilities or equipment
expressly intended for sexual arousal of fellow guests of the opposite
sex." The law does not address same-sex visitors. The National Police
Agency explains in its guidelines that the "facilities and equipment"
may include "mirrors positioned above or beside beds" or "glass-walled
bathing rooms, SM equipment or video cameras able to film reclining
individuals." Concerned that love hotels were damaging the nation's
moral fiber, the government revised the Adult Entertainment Businesses
law in 1985, forbidding hotels built after that time from having an
explicitly sexual tone. Ceiling mirrors and vibrating beds were phased
out. But the love hotel itself wouldn't go away so easily. Operators
simply toned down the decor and registered new facilities as "business
hotels" under the Hotel Business Law. Although the newer hotels still
primarily cater to couples and offer rest and stay rates, open-counter
reception areas and restaurants on the premises keep them from running
afoul of the law. By last year, the older, more garish variety had
dropped to about 4,000 nationwide, according to Sogo Unicom.
When did love hotels emerge?
The term "love hotel" itself entered common usage in the early
1970s. But the concept of per-hour rooms started in the 1930s as a way
to boost business, said Shoichi Inoue, a professor of architecture at
the International Research Center for Japanese Studies in Kyoto. At the
time, unmarried couples bent on having sex often had to find a discreet
place outdoors or in establishments more akin to brothels -- often a
combination of restaurant and hotel, according to Inoue, author of "Ai
no Kukan" ("Space for Love"). In fact, Inoue said, a field in front of
the Imperial Palace was well-known as a place couples went to engage in
sex around 1950. "But in the late 1960s to 1970s, people became
wealthier and started having sex in venues normally used by
prostitutes," Inoue said, noting the increased presence of streetlights
made sex outdoors less of an option.
Are single stays OK?
It depends on the owner. Yukari Suzuki writes in her book "The
Power of Love Hotels" that many owners refuse to allow a man to check
in alone due to suspicions he will call in a prostitute. Many hotels
reject male-only couples for fear that they may be voyeurs, or even
robbers, posing as homosexuals, the book says. Operators claim the
policy is not explicitly homophobic in its own right. But many
proprietors can be heard expressing disdain toward gay couples. Three,
meanwhile, is considered a crowd. When Suzuki visited love hotels
accompanied by two other people, she was either turned down or charged
twice the regular rate, the book said.
It seems like a profitable
business. Is it?
Yes. The profit margin of love hotels runs between 40 percent
and 50 percent. But the initial investment to construct a love hotel
can run from Â¥300 million to Â¥500 million, plus
large outlays every eight to 10 years for renovation to remain
successful, said Hiroshi Kanae, editor in chief of Leisure Hotel. "The
key word is unique," Kanae said, hinting that the otherworldliness of
love hotels is aimed at providing couples with a sense of exoticism.
"The hotels need to offer users a sense of amusement." Before the 1985
legal revision, many love hotels had revolving beds, mirrors in the
ceiling and glass-walled bathrooms. In other words, a room decorated
specifically for sexual arousal. After the law was changed, however,
love hotel interiors became plain and simple. "In the past 10 years,
some started to have Japanese-style (tatami-mat) rooms apparently
because young people don't live in such rooms any more and they became
a novelty," Kanae said. Many love hotels now even have TVs in the
bathrooms, tanning machines, karaoke systems, hot stone baths and sex
toy vending machines.
The Weekly FYI appears Tuesdays (Wednesday in some areas). Readers are encouraged to send ideas, questions and opinions to National News Desk
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