Pros: Unparalleled when you just have to satisfy nature's other call...
Cons: Not exactly the most romantic of places
First off, I just want to give a heads up and warn that this review may contain some adult oriented themes. I haven't written the review yet in my mind, so it's good to be safe :)
Over in Japan, real estate is shockingly expensive and it is quite common for adults 20 and older to still be living with their parents or with some shared housing, one way or another. Privacy is hard to come by there, especially for young couples. The answer came in the form of Love Hotels. Basically, these are "convenience" hotels in which you may rent out for, hopefully, the sole purpose of having sex (foreplay recommended for prolonging relationship).
Where You'll Find Them and How to Spot Them
The good thing about Love Hotels is that you can find them almost everywhere. Be it just close to the subway stations (very convenient), amongst the shopping arcades, and even in the suburban areas. Once you happen to stumble upon one Love Hotel, it is quite easy to find the others, because they are almost always clustered together in little groups. This means that checking out the "menu" is all the more easier, but more on that later.
Lovel Hotels are not usually as plainly named as such, so don't expect to see names such as "Hilton Love Hotel" because that just won't happen (or it would be ridiculously expensive). So by far the best method of recognizing a Love Hotel is by its appearance. First, the sign itself will exhibit a somewhat sleazy quality to it, for lack of a better way to explain it. There will be an attempt at class, but this will be foiled by the fact that they are usually attention-getting neon signs. The second most important method for finding a Love Hotel is by the architecture of the building itself. A surprising number of Love Hotels can be in the form of grand castles with gargoyles or large cherubs prancing atop the roof. Others may look uniquely futuristic, with a NASA rocket theme on them, or a distinctly alien shape. Granted, there are just as many normal looking Love Hotels, but the moment you catch site of a Medieval Castle in the middle of downtown, you know you're in the right area.
Now, I hope that this description of the area won't scare you into thinking that this is anywhere close to feeling like the red-light district. For the most part in places within Tokyo, the Love Hotel clusters, once you're inside them, are very quiet, peaceful, clean, and well, respectable. Consider this, walking about in the major youth gathering area called Shibuya, it is sometimes a relief to walk into the Love Hotel circle. Over here, a cooperative effort is made by the Love Hotels themselves to generate an atmosphere of privacy and comfort. Hence, the area is kept clean, quiet, and most importantly, secluded. People don't like to be seen walking into a Love Hotel, and this helps ease their tensions.
How Does it Work & What It's Like Inside?
Once you've found your way into the circle of Love Hotels, take your time to shop around and see what's available. Keep in mind that before 10pm, almost all Love Hotels only offer 3-5 hour stays for usually around the equivalent of $40-$50. Past 10pm, they offer overnight stays, which can range from $50 to even topping $300+! The average price you'd find will mostly likely be around the $70-$80 price range. The thing about Love Hotels is that you are meant to shop around, so don't feel awkward to do so! Upon entering the Love Hotel, you'll be greeted with a lit display of all the available rooms with photos and prices labeling each one. Some will be unlit, indicating that those rooms are already full. If you see something you like, then in most cases, you'd press the button corresponding to the room you want (usually located right beneath the photo) then head to the clerk. The clerk is normally behind a counter with a large, heavily tinted glass window. Most of the time, you cannot see each other's faces as anonymity is a top priority there. What you can see however is the slot where you put in your money and the clerk handing you your room key. Now suppose you didn't like any of the offerings in that particular hotel, then no fear, simply step out and walk 2 minutes to the next adjacent Love Hotel. Again, this is common practice so don't feel ashamed/bad/etc.
Now here's where it gets very interesting. Just what can you expect from a Love Hotel room? The answers here are almost infinite. For the lower range of prices, which are around $40-60, you'd probably get yourself a double bed, a small tv, a small refrigerator, a karaoke machine, a Super Nintendo, a toilet, and other less significant things. There is an abundance of higher priced extras, and these can include: large TV with adult channels, Playstation 2 machines, vibrating queen/king sized bed, large jacuzzi type bath, and yes, even a swimming pool! For rooms that contain one to three more of these items, you'd probably have to pay upwards from $90 a night, aside from the swimming pool, which can only be found in the ultra-expensive Love Hotels. Condoms and lubricants always provided.
Below the $70 level, you'd probably find yourself in a non-themed room, with just basic, ordinary items witin. Over that, themed rooms start to become available. There are traditional japanese rooms with tatami floors (the straw mat flooring) and futons, space-themed rooms, classic American 1950s rooms, and well, most anything imaginable. The only limits are your wallet and your tolerance/tastes.
No big procedure here. Once you're done with your thing, simply take your key over to the clerk, hand it over, then walk out of the establishment. In the daylight, you'll swear you're in a different place :) Oh, and if you didn't use all of your available minutes, that's pretty much tough luck for you. It won't help to try and ask for a refund or anything of that sort, it simply won't work.
Where Can I get More Information?
Right off the top of my head, I can tell you that if you're in the Tokyo area, your best bets on finding them would be in Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Roppongi.
Surprisingly enough, you can find Love Hotel review compilation books at normal bookstores. And no, these won't even be in the adult section, which is pretty much non-existent in Japan (Meaning to say, the adult magazines are not kept hidden away from plain view). If you happen to be able to read Japanese or are dating a Japanese partner, then by all means, these books are an excellent resource for Love Hotels. The information in these books are usually sorted by area, so look up the closest area and see what's available. In them, you'll find prices, amenities, ratings, and usually a photo or two.
The Wrap Up
That about covers it for Love Hotels. The most important things to remember about them are that you really ought to shop around before you commit to anything. Lastly, if you're a foreigner, and this applies mostly to foreign men, then you may have some difficulty when entering a Love Hotel. This is a little discriminatory on their part, I agree, but they do it not for a dislike of non-Japanese, but due to their fear of "potential" problems. This in itself, is an entirely different article so I won't get into it here. The most I can say is that you will have better luck getting into Love Hotels that have very darkly tinted windows at check-in or have automated the process. Try and let your Asian lady friend do the talking/paying and stay meekly at the back. Finally, if you can wait until 10pm, then you can get much more time for your money, which means more .... ;)