Retro love hotels in Tokyo and Japan more generally are, to put it in an understated way, special. And the older they are, chances are the weirder they are. In this special post, I look at a few truly classic kitsch love hotels. Honestly, you have to see these. Only in Japan.
Empire of Kitsch: Love Hotels and the Swinging Seventies
Yes, we know. We’re not in Kansas (or California) anymore. But Japan’s love hotels are fascinating, and have a strong national identity that’s worth thinking about in comparison to American motels. How shall we say it – American motels have gained a reputation for being places where some, erm, “interesting” activity takes place. Of course, these originally wholesome family (and often pet) friendly establishments weren’t always seen that way, but the cultural image of the motel as a place for trysts and other naughty activities is a strong one. In Japan, and now much of Asia, the market for hotels explicitly for couples to “share a private moment” is formal and “normal.” It all started in 1968 with the opening of the original “Love Hotel” (literally its name) in Osaka. I visited the country last year on vacation, and like many westerners, was fascinated with the culture of love hotels. We’re retro freaks on this blog, so you know I went for the old stuff. And much like Route 66’s road apples of yesteryear, Japan’s golden age offerings do not disappoint!
Why Does Japan Have All These Weird Retro and Abandoned Love Hotels?
In the postwar era, it was hard to be alone with your sweetheart. There was a massive housing crisis. For decades, homes were often crowded with extended family members and children. Many rank-and-file citizens ended up “getting down to business” in parks and other public places out of desperation. The 1970s saw the rise of the love hotel, a place that promised discretion and privacy, where you could pay for a “rest” (and maybe also some “not rest”) and then be on your merry way, all away from prying eyes (and ears). A lot of old ones are abandoned now. But some live on.
I Remember You Well in the Geihinkan Hotel, or… this Retro Kitsch Goes to 11
This is probably your best bet if you need (yes need) a love hotel and don’t mind being out in Kawasaki, just south of Tokyo proper. My favorite decor is the above Chinese courtesan’s room, but if you’re homesick for western libido, go in for the Rococo room with a nice Roman tub. This place is truly incredible – a monument to a bygone era of goofy excess and flashiness – I have no idea how it’s still around. Well, actually, the hotel has lost its license to renovate in a passive-aggressive move from local government, so it’s slowly decaying. But it is still bookable. Get there before it’s too late!
The Kitsch King: Meguro Emperor Love Hotel
Opened in 1973, the Meguro Emperor kicked off the “make your love hotel look like a giant castle or other giant thing” trend that exploded over the course of the 70s. Located centrally next to Shibuya, one of Tokyo’s premiere going-out districts, it seems to have everything figured out. I actually stayed here one night after going out when the subway stopped running (taxis are crazy expensive there). Money well spent, although gondola beds and other funky 70s details have been phased out. At least you can totally still stay there.
So there you have it. I implore you, stay at some of these funky places before new, boring sanitized chains knock them out!