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Trapped inside the love hotel in Japan

Should I call the police to find my husband?

I was jet-lagged but tried to stay awake while sitting in the empty lobby of the expensive Japanese hotel. Next to me were two heavy suitcases and two overfilled backpacks. The clock above the receptionist showed 3 am.

Two hours ago, my husband left me with the intention to find some love hotel where we could sleep for the remainder of the night.

I was worried. Why was it taking him so long? The street with love hotels was very close. We had checked two of them already, though without luck. What if something happened to him in the middle of the night in this provincial town located on the Japanese Island of Kyushu? Or what if he was trapped inside the love hotel? I was ready to ask the receptionist to call the police.

I love Korean food!

Finally, my husband came back. He looked upset. I noticed bloody abrasions on his hands. “No luck.” He told me. “We have to stay in this hotel.”

We paid about $150 for the room. My husband refused to explain why it took him so long to find any love hotel even though there were many of them on that street. “Let’s get some sleep.” He said. “I’ll tell you everything in the morning.”

Barely able to keep our eyes open, we entered a small, modestly decorated room which had two narrow beds. Without taking a shower or even brushing our teeth we collapsed on our beds.

Do you think that jet-lag and a lack of sleep for almost two days would make us sleep like babies? Wrong. We went to bed at 4:00 am but were wide awake at 6:00 am. At least we were first in the breakfast room downstairs.

Why did we need a love hotel?

What thoughts come to mind when people hear the words “love hotel”? Obviously, you imagine some couple in need of intimacy.

In Japan, love hotels are a natural part of life because many people live in tiny apartments where they might share a room with other members of the family. To get privacy, the couples (including spouses) use love hotels where they can pay by the hour.

As for us, we needed the love hotel because we arrived in Beppu in the middle of the night. It did not make sense to pay a lot of money for a full night at the regular hotel when we needed to sleep for just a few hours. And the next morning we planned to move out, start sightseeing and then go to a reasonably priced business hotel which we reserved from home in advance.

Besides, on that night we wanted to stay at the love hotel because of our pleasant experience at such a facility in Nara, the ancient town near Osaka.

The types of tourist accommodations
 in Japan

Like many other people, I had the impression that Japan is an expensive country to travel to. Before going to Japan for the first time, I have read several fiction and travel books about this far-away country.

I was able to find a good deal for the airplane tickets on the Internet. But where to stay without going over the budget?

 I checked the types of hotels and their cost. I did not even consider luxury hotels such as the Marriott, Hilton, Intercontinental, Hyatt. I know, they are the best, but we couldn’t pay their rates. Usually, the room there would start from $200 per night.

Small business hotels were the best value. We stayed at such accommodations before, and they provided everything that we needed: a clean room (even if it was quite small), private bathroom (again, on the small side), TV, Internet, excellent breakfast. Some of them have an onsen on the premises.

I really liked the traditional Japanese inns, where you could take a Japanese bath in the evening, sleep on the floor on the tatami mats, and eat a traditional Japanese breakfast. The more expensive ones are called ryokans and less costly – minshuku. Both offered the real Japanese experience during our two previous trips.

The cheapest choices were capsule hotels where each capsule could accommodate one person. The majority of capsule hotels are only for men. There are very few that serve women. Someday I would like to try such a hotel, just for the fun experience.

One night, we stayed at the youth hostel in Hiroshima. I had to share a room with three young Chinese girls. They were very nice, but one of them snored. My husband stayed in a different wing of that youth hostel and did not sleep well too.

While researching the types of hotels in Japan, I came across the Love Hotels. Oh, no! – I thought, – this type of hotel is definitely not for us! Can you really pay for the hotel by the hour?

An inexpensive choice
for a budget traveler

You can stay in a love hotel from one to three hours or for the whole night.

During our first trip to Japan, in Tokyo, we stumbled on the street with funny kitschy buildings. The buildings were painted in rainbow colors. Each roof had whimsical decorations reminding us of Disney Castle.

All these buildings had signs reading something like that: “Rest: 2 hours – 2,500 yen, 3 hours – 3,500 yen. Stay: 9,000 yen, 12,000 yen…” It took me a while to understand what all these sings meant – they advertised the prices for the love hotels! “Rest” meant staying from one to three hours, and “Stay” – for the whole night.

We saw couples going in and out. I felt that I would be embarrassed to walk through a door of such “indecent” establishment. Later I read that privacy is essential at such establishments. Some love hotels even have the parking garages where their customers’ license plates are covered with a shield.

Love hotel in Nara

During our second trip to Japan, we took a train from Osaka to the ancient city of Nara. It was the beginning of June. The season of summer rains haven’t started, but the air was already hot and humid. My husband and I wanted to spend a whole day sightseeing in Nara.

We planned to do a lot of walking, but I worried that it would be difficult to do when it gets sweltering in the afternoon. I had an idea: what if after lunch at a Kaiseki restaurant we would find a love hotel and take a nap there for a couple of hours?

We got off the train at Nara station and went to the visitor center. The woman who worked there spoke decent English. I asked for a city map, for the best way to get to the historic park and other highlights of the city, and for directions to the Kaiseki restaurant.

After the woman answered all my questions, I asked the last one: do you have love hotels here? The woman’s face turned bright red. “Why do you want the love hotel?” she asked. Instead of saying “None of your business,” I told her that after walking for several hours on a hot, humid day we might want to cool down and get some rest.

Very hesitantly and almost stuttering, the woman explained how to find a love hotel located in the tourist area. Seeing her embarrassment, I started blushing myself.

After sightseeing and a traditional Kaiseki lunch, we were eager to cool down and rest. I did not dare to ask people on the street for directions to the love hotel. I delegated this task to my husband.

Remembering how embarrassed the woman at the visitor center was, he approached only men. All the men laughed and winked at him while they were giving directions.

Two hours in heaven

Japanese love hotels are good not only for intimate seclusion, but also for tourists.

Finally, we found a love hotel. By that time, even my umbrella (which I used the Japanese way – as a parasol) did not help anymore. I was hot, sweaty, tired.  We entered the lobby of the hotel, where we were greeted by a receptionist in a cute uniform.

After paying for the room, we took the elevator to the 5th floor. As we walked through the long corridor, we noticed how quiet and empty the place was. It seemed as we were the only people in the whole building. It was a little eerie.

We entered the room. The lights were on already. The large window was covered by heavy curtains which did not let any outside light in.  Curious to see the view, I pulled the curtains back. In front of me was the wall without a window.

Everything in this room looked great, everything was tastefully decorated. Large, flat screen TV, comfortable chairs, a massive bed with a fancy bedspread, a thermos with hot water (a must in all quality hotels in Japan, China, and other Asian countries), an array of high-quality teas, and a modern coffeemaker. There was a large selection of coffee, cookies, fruit, bottled water. The bathroom had an overwhelming variety of toiletries.

I jumped in the shower. It felt like heaven. After two hours in this beautiful room, refreshed and energized, we were ready to see the rest of Nara’s highlights.

Looking for a love hotel in Beppu

To use this machine in the love hotel you should be able to read in Japanese.

We started our third trip to Japan in  Beppu, a seaside town on the island of Kyushu. To reach it, we traveled across the globe from Miami to Tokyo, boarded a bullet train to Osaka, then took another train and another one, and finally arrived in Beppu in the middle of the night. This town is famous for its many onsens (Japanese baths that we got addicted to from the very first time we tried one.)

We took a taxi from the train station. The taxi driver smiled when his passengers requested to bring them to the love hotel. We arrived at the street which had several such hotels.

The driver stopped in the underground parking of one of these hotels and helped us to unload two heavy suitcases (it was before the time when we learned how to travel with just a backpack and a carry-on).

We looked for the entrance to the lobby. There was just one door which could take us inside the hotel, but before entering it, we found out that we had to choose the room through the machine.

A young Japanese couple passed us, quickly pressed some buttons on a machine, went to the door and disappeared behind it. We did not ask them for assistance, because I thought that it would be too embarrassing for this couple to talk to us when they were hurrying to their room in the middle of the night. Big mistake!

When we looked at the machine, we saw many pictures of the rooms, and all of them had different kinds of décor. Each room had its price in yen. The rates were quite inexpensive. To our disappointment, we saw that all the instructions on how to use this machine were in Japanese.

We understood that only after we chose a room, we will be allowed to open the entrance door. But how and when to pay for this accommodation?

It was an unexpected problem. We visited Japan two times before. We got used to seeing many signs in English – in the subway, at the train stations, on trains, on buses. Here, standing in this empty parking garage, not seeing a single word in English on the screen of the machine, we felt lost. Besides, we started getting very tired and sleepy – the jet lag caught up with us big time.

After pushing different buttons without any result, we went to the next love hotel. We felt lucky when we were able to open the entrance door. There was no lobby, just a long hallway with doors. The place looked deserted. We opened the door to the nearest room. It had just what we needed – the large comfortable bed!

Before I was ready to close the door, the intercom came to life. A tinny female voice started talking to us, in Japanese, of course. I yelled: Do you speak English? The woman kept speaking in Japanese. We were not even sure if it was the real person or recording.

What to do? We would be happy to pay now or in the morning but how? The woman or the recording kept going on nonstop. Discouraged, we left the room and the hotel.

Nearby we noticed a “regular” hotel. We asked how much they charged for one night. In comparison to the love hotels, this place was too expensive for us.

My husband decided to leave me in the lobby of that hotel with our heavy luggage. He wanted to try his luck in finding another love hotel which would have the receptionist or the instructions in English.

Trapped inside the love hotel

Even after two sleepless nights, jet-lag did not allow us to sleep in the expensive Beppu hotel for more than two hours. During breakfast, my husband told me why he was absent for such a long time and why he had bloody abrasions on his hands.

The hotel he chose had underground parking, and only from there, he could enter. The very first door he tried was not locked. He looked inside and saw a short stairway leading to the brightly lit room.

To go up and leave the entrance door open? Or close it while he was trying to find out how to pay for it? For safety reason, he shut the door and climbed the stairs. The room was beautifully decorated. Spacious bed. Cozy bathroom.

Immediately, the phone started ringing. My husband picked up the receiver. A woman’s voice said something in Japanese. “Do you speak English?” He asked. The woman kept talking in Japanese. After a few minutes of this senseless conversation, he hung up.

The phone started ringing again. The same voice, the same questions in Japanese, the same attempts to get an answer in English. He hung up. The phone started ringing once more, but this time my husband ignored it. He decided to leave and try other hotels. Maybe, one of them will have a live person on duty.

He went down to the front door. He couldn’t open it. The door was made of metal. No handles, no visible locks. He wished he had some tools, something like a hammer and a screwdriver. He was trapped. He could stay and sleep here. But how about his wife, waiting for him in the lobby of that expensive hotel. The struggle with the door took him more than two hours.

“How did you manage to open the door?” I asked. “Did you break it?” My husband showed me his hands with broken nails and bloody abrasions. “I have no idea, why I was able to open the door. What helped me to do it – I was desperate!”

Before you try to use love hotels in Japan

After two completely different experiences in love hotels (one enjoyable and another unpleasant), I still think that love hotels in Japan are a creative and inexpensive way for a budget traveler to spend a night or just a few hours.

Where else can you get such a pleasant break in the middle of the day? Where else can you feel pampered for a very reasonable amount of money?

However, before going to a love hotel, check out the instructional video on YouTube. Or at least try to find a place where they have the English-speaking staff or a machine with the instructions in English. You do not want to repeat our experience in Beppu – to be trapped inside a love hotel in Japan.

About us

Hello! We are Elena & Alexander, the Florida-based world travelers, and bloggers. We are humbled to admit that we visited only 74 out of 197 countries in the world. But we are greedy travelers, and we want to visit at least 74 countries more.

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