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Inside Japan’s ‘love hotels,’ featuring mirrored ceilings and slides

There’s a side to Tokyo that is rather risque – and something I was not expecting.

I had spent the day walking the streets of Shinjuku-ku, which is adorned with colourful neon street lights, endless buzzing bars, restaurants and karaoke rooms.

The Skyscraper district is also home to the Tokyo Metropolitan Building, which boasts a popular observation deck to view the city’s vast skyline.

However, one thing it is also known for is Kabukicho, which unknowingly to me, has the biggest red-light district in Tokyo.

After doing a lot of sightseeing that day, clocking almost 30,000 steps and having just stuffed myself with more ramen, I was ready to call it a day.

But then I stumbled across a very bright street that piqued my interest. Above me was a red-lit arch which could only mean one thing – I was about to enter X-rated territory.

Emma going down the slide
“Love hotels” can be rented out either by the hour or for the night.
YouTube/Tokidoki Traveller

It can be a suitable place for the whole family throughout the daytime. However, when the moon has risen, a strong “adult” atmosphere prevails.

As I proceeded through the bright gate I quickly gathered the further in you go, the more risque it becomes with endless sex shops and hostess clubs.

I also noticed something rather sketchy – men trying to lure you into entertainment venues, irrespective of sex, which I’m guessing are strip clubs.

I was told the general rule is that if someone is outside trying to get you to come inside – don’t go. And if they name a price, expect to pay triple that (at least). I had zero desire to go in, so I kept walking.

I also vaguely remember being told about something called “love hotels” or “rabuho”, where you guessed it, are dedicated to the art of lovemaking – either by the hour or the night.

Hotel Shinjuku
The hotels are popular for couples who are looking for privacy.

While red-light districts are quite common in major cities, one thing that took me by surprise were these love hotels.

Given there’s 37 million residents living in Tokyo, it’s no wonder they are so popular with couples just wanting some privacy.

“It is a themed hotel where people usually go to have sexy time,” TikTok user ‘Konpeichann’ said in a clip while explaining the popularity behind the hotels.

“A lot of people in Japan prefer to go love hotels rather than having sex at their own place because houses are all bunched up together, there’s not much space, the walls are very thin and it’s common etiquette not to have noise complaints.”

However, they’re not just for locals – tourists can also enjoy the fun of a love hotel, even if they’re travelling alone and want to try something out of the ordinary.

I was curious to know what these hotels looked like as I heard some even had water slides.

I made another turn into a street and lo and behold, I found myself surrounded by them.

I also noticed it suddenly went from chaos, to barely a whisper or person in sight.

Nonetheless, I was here to “investigate” so I continued my walk.

From the outside the hotels appear “normal” with advertising showing what they look like on the inside.

I didn’t feel comfortable going inside any, but stress not, the advertised pics gave a good idea on what you can expect.

Some were super fancy, and decked out with over-the-top furniture and unlike traditional hotels, they had a specific love heart symbol that would identify them as love hotels.

They also used the wording “rest” on their rates list displayed out the front, which is for short visits or “stay” for overnight use.

Japan, Tokio: A Love Hotel near Uguisudani Station.
Kabukicho is the biggest red-light district in Tokyo.
dpa/picture alliance via Getty I

Some varied between $40 and $70 for two to four hours, while the “stay” rates were almost double.

Basically, if a hotel has the two prices listed outside, it’s a love hotel.

While you may think, why not just go to any hotel, it’s because love hotels not only allow you to stay for just a few hours, they also offer a saucier experience with things such as mirrored ceilings, jacuzzi tubs and complimentary flavoured condoms.

Not only are these hotels set at comparable prices when compared to regular or business hotels, they’re usually jam-packed with standout features.

Apart from the ones mentioned, some have private saunas, karaoke set up, soundproof walls, game consoles and numerous pieces of furniture all in the same room.

They’re known for having a theme and there is even a hotel called Hotel Sekitei that has a water slide inside, but it was located an hour away in Chiba.

While I may not have travelled all the way to check it out, lucky for us, Aussie travel blogger Emma, aka Tokidoki Traveller recorded a YouTube clip giving viewers a glimpse of what’s inside.

“Just a heads up though, if you wish to visit it is pretty dang difficult. They do not speak English, and you cannot reserve the hotel so you just have to turn up and hope the slide room is available,” she said in her clip.

After entering one of the lavish rooms with a friend, Emma spotted a glass door and was excited to find behind it was the start of a massive water slide.

“Wait that’s the … THAT’S the slide?? Oh My God. What the hell. This is epic,” she said while yelling.

After taking the stairs down to the bottom of the slide, the duo were taken back by the disco lights and just how massive the slide was.

“People have probably done it on the slide …” she laughed. “This is crazy, look how big it is. “It’s really pretty as well.”

She then gave a quick explanation of Japanese love hotels.

Hotel Shinjuku.
The hotels are set at comparable prices compared to regular or business hotels.

“It’s a place where you go to do the deed and business [but] also they’re funky hotels, there’s really good baths and fun things to do.”

“It’s also a great time to spend with your friends and do whatever you want like, order food have some drinks, sit in a big bathtub with some lights and bubbles and go down a slide.”

Emma and her friend spent $120 for four hours at the hotel.

“I think that’s pretty good if you get a whole water slide in the deal,” she said.

The first modern love hotel opened in Osaka in 1968, named the ‘Hotel Love’ – the name has since become the universal term to represent a hotel where couples can go to be alone for a few hours.

Another was a Disneyland-like facility called “The Meguro Emperor” – and soon hotels began opening around Tokyo with names like Casablanca, Sky Love, Venus, Paradiso, Aphrodite, and the less discretely named Hotel Eros with ‘Eros’ being the Greek God of love.

However, the concept goes back to Japan’s Edo period in the 17th century, where inns and tea houses were built with separate entrances for those visiting for more illicit purposes.

Today, there are reported to be 37,000 Love Hotels in Japan.

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