Boom­ing busi­ness in love ho­tels

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIVING -

FROM rooms kit­ted out like med­i­cal clin­ics where cou­ples can play “doc­tors and nurses” to grot­tos where it is per­ma­nently Christ­mas, Ja­pan’s “love ho­tels” cater to al­most ev­ery taste, of­fer­ing a few hours of rea­son­ably-priced pri­vacy in a crowded coun­try.

And with the kind of oc­cu­pancy rates that most ho­tels can only dream of, even dur­ing eco­nomic hard times, they are an al­most re­ces­sion-proof busi­ness.

One week day lunchtime at TwoWay, one of many love ho­tels in the lively Tokyo district of Shibuya, only two of the 34 rooms are va­cant.

“At this time of day, it will be mostly cou­ples hav­ing af­fairs,” said Masakatsu Tsun­oda, who has been in the busi­ness for 15 years and has owned the place for five. “In the evening, it will be mostly younger people.”

The con­cept of a love ho­tel is sim­ple; rooms can be taken for the night, or for two hours – eu­phemisti­cally termed “a rest”, al­though few cou­ples tak­ing this op­tion in­tend to sleep.

“Ideally, you would have a room oc­cu­pied four times in 24 hours,” says Tsun­oda. “Once in the morn­ing, once in the af­ter­noon, again in the evening and then for the night.”

Even the most ba­sic room comes with an en­suite bath, and with a start­ing price of around ¥7,000 (RM228) for the night, it rep­re­sents good value for money in a coun­try where ac­com­mo­da­tion can be ex­pen­sive.

A lit­tle bit of cou­ple time dur­ing the day can be bought for as low as ¥2,000 (RM65). At the higher end, a room will have lux­ury sheets, the lat­est flat-screen tele­vi­sion, a game con­sole, per­haps a mir­rored ceil­ing and a deep bub­ble bath with room enough for two.

In be­tween are rooms to suit ev­ery imag­in­able taste, and some de­signed to in­dulge an al­to­gether more in­no­cent fan­tasy, such as those with a Star Wars theme or those done up to re­sem­ble a me­dieval Euro­pean cas­tle.

Anonymity is as­sured and dis­cre­tion – never in short sup­ply in Ja­pan – is ab­so­lute.

A cou­ple can of­ten check in and out with­out once see­ing an em­ployee. Their room choice can be made from a dis­play in the lobby, paid for at a ma­chine with keys dis­pensed through a small win­dow.

Staff, when they do ap­pear, are po­lite, but neu­tral, do­ing their best to blend into anonymity and in­stantly for­get the faces they see.

Aca­demic Ikkyon Kim, who has writ­ten on the sub­ject, said love ho­tels came about dur­ing Ja­pan’s feu­dal era, which lasted un­til the mid-19th century.

“Of course, they weren’t called that at the time, but there have long been rooms that a cou­ple could rent for a few hours,” he said.

“Be­fore World War II, there were a num­ber of ryokan (tra­di­tional Ja­panese style inns with tatami mat floor­ing) which op­er­ated along these lines.”

But it was in the boom years of the 1950s and 60s where the mod­ern form was firmly es­tab­lished.

“They came about to fill a need,” said Kim. “People were liv­ing in these tiny apart­ments where the whole fam­ily would sleep in the same room at night. There was no chance for any pri­vacy.”

As Ja­pan got richer, “ho­tels be­came these large con­crete build­ings with many rooms, each with its own bath, a big bed, a colour tele­vi­sion and the kind of things people wanted to have at home.”

In the 1970s, own­ers started ex­per­i­ment­ing with more ex­otic forms – cas­tles, fan­tas­ti­cal rooms, and ro­tat­ing beds – and oth­ers fol­lowed. Bound by strict rules on taste­ful ad­ver­tis­ing, but un­ham­pered by the kind of plan­ning reg­u­la­tions that are in­tended to main­tain ar­chi­tec­tural har­mony in Euro­pean cities, ex­trav­a­gant de­signs with pink tur­rets or gaudily-painted Cadil­lacs im­prob­a­bly bal­anced on roofs loudly an­nounced their pres­ence to passers-by, with­out ever men­tion­ing sex.

The froth­i­ness of Ja­pan’s 1980s bub­ble econ­omy, when al­most any­thing seemed pos­si­ble, lead to an ex­plo­sion in love ho­tels.

Es­ti­mates sug­gest there are up to 30,000 in Ja­pan now, in an in­dus­try worth a stag­ger­ing 4 tril­lion yen (RM130­bil) a year.

More than two decades since the bub­ble burst, the sec­tor is still in a ro­bust state, “even if it’s not quite as good as it was back then,” laments Tsun­oda, who says the rise of the In­ter­net has pushed own­ers to up their game.

“Pre­vi­ously, cou­ples would just go into the first place they came to on the street, but nowa­days, they can use their smart­phone to com­pare what’s in the area and take their pick,” he said.

Clients are al­ways look­ing for nov­elty, for a unique ex­pe­ri­ence, said the man­ager of The Rock, a love ho­tel in the style of a haunted house in a Tokyo sub­urb.

“It’s get­ting more and more dif­fi­cult to dis­tin­guish our­selves,” she said. “It’s hard to find the kind of fa­cil­i­ties and equip­ment that cus­tomers don’t al­ready have at home.” – AFP Re­laxnews

a jun­gle-style room of a love ho­tel called The rock Kowloon Walled City in Iruma, Tokyo. — aFP

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