Pop quiz: What does the term "automated love hotel" conjure in your imagination?
a) A place to have sex with robots
b) A hotel that eliminates the "check-in/check-out of shame" by automating the "front desk"
c) A place where two complete strangers can meet and fall in love automatically
d) All of the above, maybe
If you were in Japan, you would know the answer, instinctively. You would know that "love hotels," automated or not, are, for the locals, by-the-hour hookup hubs, originally intended to provide respite for harried married couples that want more than a rice paper screen between them and their offspring when making noisy love. Or at least that is how the origin of the love hotel is described in polite society.
Given the famously tight quarters of Japanese homes, it's not surprising that a relatively sexually liberated culture would provide recreational havens for folks caught up in the critically important function of parenting, right? Plop the kids down in front of the computer, lock the front door and scoot down to the love hotel for an hour. What a concept!
Here in the good ol' U.S. of A., we are apt to refer to such establishments as "no-tell motels," and very few provide hourly rates. But the U.S., compared to Japan, is still relatively puritanical, despite the increasing prevalence of more liberal attitudes toward sex.
In Japan, where the official age of consent is 13 (excluding fornication, which is 18), porn mags are on display next to the comic books, and the Kabukicho red light district never sleeps, it's no wonder that they not only validate but also facilitate mankind's most popular pleasure.
Is a Love Hotel on Your Itinerary?
Gaijin travelers from the US have discovered that these often-kinky love nests offer a one-of-a-kind tourist experience that simply can't be found anywhere else in the world. And it's not just their by-the-hour convenience -- I guess you could call it their primary use cases (though you can spend the night, too) -- that have piqued the curiosity of Westerners. It's the bizarre, fantastical, and imaginative themes of the rooms, or entire hotels, that really raise the eyebrows.
Ever thought about doing it on a merry-go-round? How about on the wing of a 747? Or in the classroom? Or on the subway train? In a water slide? On a boat with a goat? How would you like to share your experience with the seven dwarves? Or Jabba the Hut?
Not all the rooms are fantasy playgrounds, and if you just want a really nice room with a big hot tub, there are plenty of those to be had as well.
The room service menu is a little different, too. At a love hotel, you can choose from a variety of sex toys which, in the case of a friend of mine, were delivered via pneumatic tube.
In fact, at some love hotels it's unlikely you'll see any service personnel at all, since almost everything is automated. You'll likely use a touchscreen to select whether your stay is for "rest" (i.e. the hourly plan) or for a "stay" overnight, and to select your room. The combini-box (mini-bar) is more like a vending machine in a fridge, the TV is pre-loaded with a variety of stimulating videos, and lights/music/bed controls etc. are managed on a single console. Some hotels even offer costumes to compliment the theme of the room, just in case you want to do a little role-playing. And fancy Jacuzzis are a standard feature in most rooms.
While complete automation is accepted as the ultimate goal for the love hotel system, not all of the hotels are there yet. When these hotels do upgrade, they'll be taking advantage of rapidly evolving technology: new, larger touch panels with selectable languages to select rooms (good news for tourists) and, in the not-to-distant future, front desk robots!
So far none of them are offering robot sex, at least to my knowledge but I imagine that if you prefer an android to the real thing, you could start with an existing "realdoll" and take it from there. Maybe they're on love hotel menus now? (Probably not deliverable to your room via pneumatic tube.)
But They're Not What You Think. Really.
Unlike many swingin' Western hotels where you might find a discount coupon for the local escort service under your pillow, Japanese love hotels are strictly for amateurs. You can't order up a hooker from the touchscreen in your room, nor will you find clusters of prostitutes milling about the entry.
Now, with the advent of Tinder and other mobile apps that are designed for casual hookups, love hotels almost seem like some sort of adjunct to a broader strategy to profit from illicit encounters. It's easy to imagine a room full of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs trying to figure out how to build the perfect one-stop, integrated hook-up experience. Folks are going to figure out how to satisfy their urges, so why not make some money on it?
Still, conservative Americans are likely to blanch at the idea of hookup hotels, even if they really were originally intended as a way for parents to blow off some steam. These might be the same Americans that insist that sex is for making babies, period. Wait until some of those same folks hear that many of these hotels are beginning to accept same-sex couples!
The Footsore Boomer
Had love hotels existed in the college towns of the seventies -- Berkeley, Boulder, Madison, Austin, Eugene, State College, Athens etc. -- some enterprising hoteliers would have made a killing. We may have a couple of co-ed dorms in Boulder in 1973, but girls and guys were still separated by floors, and getting caught en flagrante could be a serious matter. Not that it stopped anybody.
Imagine if we could've simply checked into the nearest love hotel? During a break between classes, say? Imagine all the stress, the drama, the guilt, the anxiety, all disappearing after a couple of hours in the jungle room. We could've gone back to our studies invigorated, relieved of the constant pull of our libidos. At least for a little while, anyway.
Today, it's not likely any of us will be booking a trip to Japan just to experience a love hotel. Still, tourists of all ages are finding these hotels to be a welcome alternative to higher-priced, fancier full-service accommodations. For some weary travelers, a two-hour midday nap at a love hotel, with or without a little hanky panky, can recharge the batteries and relieve the swollen feet at the same time.
Others are finding them to be perfect for one night stays as they travel from city to city. LoveInnJapan.com is an online portal that serves as a 'how-to' on using love hotels while also allowing visitors to search by area or city as well as browse the different styles of rooms available. They have plans to implement a reservation system by next year.
Even though love hotels are beginning to attract attention from U.S. travelers, it's not likely that they'll start sprouting up around here any time soon. At least not until America recognizes that safe, healthy, shame-free sex is as natural as mom and apple pie. Don't hold your breath.