Japan Accommodation: Rural Love Hotels ラブホテル
In 2016 the Japanese government announced that they had achieved their target of twenty million foreign visitors per year and set a new target doubling the figure to forty million to be attained by 2020 when the Olympics next comes to Japan.
One question often asked though is "where are they going to stay?" Several times I have heard Japanese acquaintances grumble that they can no longer visit Kyoto as there is no affordable accommodation available.
Of course if you book your trip months ahead of time there is no major problem, but if you want any spontaneity on your travels or can't plan too much ahead and have budgetary constraints, then finding places to stay can be a problem. One possible solution, often overlooked, is Japan's Love Hotels.
Staying in a rural love hotel in Japan
Known to some savvy travellers as a convenient and economic option, the rates are by room and not the number of guests, so love hotels can usually turn out cheaper than a business hotel for a couple travelling together.
Usually the rooms, baths, TV's etc. are much bigger too. A friend of mine who regularly tours Japan by bicycle never books accommodation in advance, and when he decides to stop for the day will use his GPS to find nearby hotels.
On the occasions that everything is fully booked up he will turn to taxi drivers for advice, and more often than not they will point him to a love hotel.
The government has announced plans to convert love hotels into regular tourist hotels to help cope with the planned increase in tourist numbers, but already many love hotels are changing their operations to make them more amenable to regular travellers.
In the big cities love hotels will usually be found clustered together within or adjacent to "entertainment districts", but what I want to write about are rural love hotels which are often found either in-between small towns or at expressway interchanges.
Last year I walked around the Kansai region while following the Saigoku Pilgrimage, and on three different occasions a love hotel was the perfect solution to my accommodation needs and each case illustrates different strategies love hotels are taking to attract a wider clientèle.
I found all three by using google maps and searching for the hotel symbol in the areas I was wanting to find somewhere to spend the night, then clicking on the link to the hotels website. Google-maps uses the same symbol for all kinds of accommodation, whereas the online booking services may not list love hotels.
Hotel Bear Bear
In southern Nara Prefecture, south of Asuka, I needed to visit a mountain temple, commonly known as Tsubosakadera, and the nearest places to stay appeared to be around Asuka, and they were mostly ryokan and a little pricier than I would have preferred, then I discovered Hotel Bear Bear in the small town of Takatori, literally at the base of the mountain I needed to climb.
Checking their website I read that they offered themselves as a suitable hotel for business travellers, that is to say it would be possible to leave and re-enter the room, something not usually possible at love hotels. They offered numerous plans for staying, but one that took my eye was the option to stay from 6pm until noon the next day. By printing out the coupon from their website the offer was 4,300 yen including a welcome drink and breakfast. Perfect. For the price I actually got a suite. The bedroom had a big four-poster bed with a massive wall-mounted TV. In the lounge was a sofa, table, another TV, microwave oven, kettle, one-armed bandit, an empty fridge, a fridge full of drinks that get added to your bill, and a vending machine for various erotic paraphernalia.
The bath was huge and the bathroom had a third TV. The first drink was free, and next morning I chose my breakfast from the menu and it was brought to my room. I was so impressed that I decided to stay a second night.
Next day I was to climb and then descend the mountain and then head up to Asuka and on northwards, but this hotel was only a couple of stops away by train and much cheaper than the alternatives up around Sakurai. I didn't have a second coupon but the receptionist was kind enough to print one out for me.
Hotel Bear Bear
1147-1 Shimizutani, Takatori-cho, Takaichi-gun, Nara 635-0100
Later on the trip I was to visit a temple in Kameoka to the west of Kyoto, and then head south over the mountains towards Takatsuki. Both Kameoka and Takatsuki had various options for a room for the night, but the former would have meant stopping for the day at lunchtime and the latter would involve a long day walking well into the night, so I was pleasantly surprised to find Hotel Kameoka, literally right in the mountains.
It is an example of the kind of love hotels found often in the countryside, having individual cabins or chalets rather than rooms in a large multi-storey building. It actually ceased to be a love hotel not so long ago which means there is only the option to stay overnight, and not for a shorter "rest" as shorter visits to a love hotel are euphemistically known.
Whereas Hotel Bear Bear signified a certain sense of luxury, Hotel Kameoka is more rustic. The cabins are scattered throughout the wooded hillside and the interior space is again much larger than at a traditional hotel.
The entrance has a microwave oven fridge, kettle, and free coffee and tea. The toilet and bathroom are neither large nor modern, but larger than a business hotel. The main room contained a large bed as well as a small sofa and table as well as a raised tatami area for watching TV.
Wifi is available. There is a small dining room where pre-ordered breakfasts and dinners are available. I chose the no meal plan and was charged 3,200 yen for the night.
Obviously there is no public transport near the hotel, but if you have your own car or motorbike I imagine this could be a great place to base yourself while exploring Kyoto and Osaka.
6-1 Sakurazuka, Higashibetsincho Koizumi, Kameoka, Kyoto 621-0101
Tel: 0771 27 2646
My final example comes from the countryside of southern Hyogo Prefecture. I needed to find somewhere to stay in the area around Takino, and using Google-maps managed to locate two hotels right next to the Takino Interchange of the Chugoku Expressway.
One hotel, the Hotel B&B, was a former love hotel that had already been converted into a regular hotel and there charge for a single room was 5,800 yen per night.
Hotel Xenla, still functioning as a love hotel. Had "business hotel" rooms available for 4,500 yen, and the price difference was enough for me to opt for Hotel Xenla. What they had done was convert half of one floor of the hotel into single rooms. As can be seen from the photo, they are very, very small rooms, with just enough space by the side of the decent sized bed to squeeze through to the shower room. The bedding, towels etc were somewhat better quality than a regular budget hotel.
So, three different types of accommodation options that are available outside of what visitors would normally consider, and more such options are likely to arise with the pressure put on the hotel industry if the number of foreign visitors continue to increase.
If you have now whetted your appetite and want to know more about Japan's love hotels, including reviews of some of the wackier ones, I recommend Ed Jacobs book: Love Hotels: an inside look at Japan's sexual playgrounds.
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