Ready for some lovin’? Perhaps you live in a guesthouse, tiny apartment with paper-thin walls, or simply with too many roommates/relatives/children all up in your business, and not in a good way. You could go to a regular hotel, but respectability is boring. Plus, who doesn’t love mirrored ceilings, jacuzzi tubs, and complimentary flavored rubbers? Erhm … Tokyo love hotels, here we come!
Enter the Tokyo love hotel, or rabuho. Though this idea might seem somewhat sleazy to people used to the idea of no-tell motels back in the States, love hotels are clean and used not only by trysting lovers, but middle-aged couples looking to get away from the live-in in-laws (and vice versa). Also called fashion hotels, couple hotels, leisure hotels, and sometimes the rather blatant “sex hotels”, these kitsch havens offer fun themed sleeping (or not sleeping) experiences for prices comparable to business hotels. Additionally, there are a few workarounds that can save you some extra yens.
Pro tip: The term “sex hotels” isn’t used in Japan. Stick to “love hotel”.
What is a love hotel?
Although the concept of having a hotel specifically for the purposes of getting your groove on goes all the way back to the Edo period, the first love hotels as we now know them started up in the late 1950s and early 1960s. At the time, Japanese homes were usually designed with sleeping areas doubling as living areas during the day and, as a result, not much scope for afternoon delight—and even less so if you had kids or live-in in-laws.
Increasing car ownership in the 1960s made the concept of motels more familiar, and the first Japanese love hotels sprang up in that decade. Swings and vibrating beds were already part of the schtick, as was the frankly bonkers architecture characteristic of many older rabuho. (A lot of the flamboyant love hotel architecture does survive, though. We’re looking at you, Meguro Emperor, Meguro, Hotel Zebra, Ikebukuro, and Hotel UFO, Chiba).
Police scrutiny from the later 1970s onward pushed the more flamboyant features of love hotels indoors, and most newer ones have fairly nondescript exteriors that sort of blend into the Tokyo streets. In keeping with the on-the-DL protocol, some love hotels even have separate entrances and exits so that you and your honey can arrive and leave without being too conspicuous.
You’ll typically find rabuho near stations, in somewhat out-of-the-way areas in suburbia or industria, or near highways. With over 37 000 Japanese love hotels in existence, it’s not surprising that they’ve even made their way into emoji, and it’s estimated that over a million couples visit love hotels every day. (And if you’re more interested in reading about rabuho than visiting them, this article is a good place to start.)
Love hotels in Tokyo and elsewhere in Japan can be identified by their creative names and often kitschy façades. Witness: Hotel Casa Nova, XO Shinjuku, Casablanca Ikebukuro, Hotel Zebra, Ramses Club, Hotel Adore, Hotel Ring My Bell—need we go on? Often adorned with neon colors and generally gaudy decór, most love hotels have some degree of boudoir fancy that makes them easily identifiable.
What facilities do love hotels offer?
Indoors, you’ll find rooms decked out with themed decorations (or bland themeless rooms if it’s really budget), fancy bathrooms with showers for two, jet baths, etc., and a TV stocked with all kinds of, ahem, special channels. Unlike biz hotels, you don’t have to pay extra for the juicier programs. Oh, and love hotels also often offer wifi too.
There will also sometimes be room service, vending machines with various toys, karaoke machines, disco lights, costume rental for some spicy cosplay, and more. We’ve stayed in rooms decked out with: flowers, figurines, and tinkly lullaby music playing overhead (creepy), a Chinese opium den themed room, a pole smack in the middle of the room, velvet paintings, the list goes on.
The bathrooms in love hotels tend to also be even more well stocked with toiletries than your average hotel: shampoo, conditioner, lotions, creams, hair products, and of course, contraception. Two seems to be the standard for free condoms, so if you’re planning a marathon, you may want to come prepared. Note: some rabuho may not supply any protection at all, thanks to rebranding and legalities.
Who can use Tokyo love hotels?
In short, any consenting adults. While most Tokyo love hotels tend to be anonymous, often with little or even no human interaction (other than with your special friend) during the transaction, there have been reports of people being turned away for being not the “right” clientele. These stories of refusal include same-sex pairs, groups larger than two, and non-Japanese looking (or speaking) people. However, we have never been turned away, and have visited quite a few establishments both in Tokyo and further afield, like in good old Osaka. 😉
How much does a love hotel cost?
Rabuho famously have “rest” (休憩) times (lasting about 2-3 hours) and “stay” (宿泊) times (overnight). Rest rates start around ¥3,000, while stay rates are about two to three times higher. Check-in times for a love hotel stay start pretty late—think 10pm or even later, checking out around 10 or 11am.
Saving money at a rabuho
One bargain to look for: “service” or “free” time (サービスタイム or フリータイム) is the best deal, typically because the hours are off-peak/inconvenient. For example, taking a room from 6am to 6pm might be half the cost of the love hotel’s usual stay rate. Of course, rates vary by location, and you might not want to sleep the daylight hours away, but for night owls, dancing fools, all-night karaokers, and people willing to mess up their circadian rhythms for a deal (we salute you), service time just might be your jam.
Where can I find love hotels?
Love hotels can be found all over Tokyo and Japan, but the biggest areas in Tokyo for concentrations of hotels are Uguisudani near Ueno (±61 in the greater ward), the Dogenzaka “Love Hotel Hill” area of Shibuya (±34), Shinjuku’s Kabukicho (±72), and Ikebukuro’s East, North, and West Exits (±86) according to Happy Hotel. The site (in Japanese) has a fairly comprehensive listing of love hotels in Shinjuku, Shibuya, Roppongi, Ikebukuro and beyond, with addresses, ratings, pictures, and even some coupons for things like free drinks or a thousand yen off the room price. But for the more spontaneous, a good bet is to just stroll around one of the districts, look for a love hotel whose features and fees fit your fancy, and saunter in.
Pro tip: See our recommendations for booking some of the best love hotels below.
How do I get a room at a love hotel?
Love hotels can be identified not only by their fetching fronts, but by the signs advertising rest and stay prices. Once inside, you’re likely to encounter a big board with pictures of various rooms and their prices. Rooms that are lit up are available; if they’re dark, they are occupied and you won’t be able to select them. Choose a room, and either press the button on the board itself, or on a nearby machine.
Occasionally, you will have to deal with a human to whom you’ll tell your choice, but the clerk will usually be behind a small window in a wall, with only hands visible. Eye contact is almost never made. Unless it’s an old lady at the desk—then brace yourself for awkward greetings and no less awkward thanks on the way out. But either way, your secrets are safe here.
Sometimes you’ll get a key, but often you’ll be directed to just go to the room, where the door will be unlocked. Once in, the door locks automatically. Some love hotels do not allow re-entry into the room, so be aware of that. Payment is usually at a machine: sometimes in the room, sometimes by pneumatic tube (yes, really), and sometimes through the tiny reception window with the floating human hands. Typically, payment is made up front, and they’ll charge you if you overstay.
If you don’t want to leave your hotel or your room up to chance, Happy Hotel offers reviews by users (though again, you’ll need some Japanese, or Google Translate, to be able to read them).
Booking a love hotel online
Even love hotels have spotted the potential upside to their business that comes from catering to the needs of international tourists, so a number are now available to book online. A few we like are Hotel The Hotel (what a name!) and the Polynesian (?) themed Hotel Moana in the love hotel hotbed of Kabukicho, Hotel Edoyado and Boston Club near Asakusa (both much cheaper than Shinjuku) and just because it’s Tokyo’s most famous love hotel, the Meguro Emperor—a gaudy 1970s era Cinderella castle and well-known landmark on the banks of the Meguro River.
Note that most of the prices on the booking sites (even with discounts) are at the top end of the price range for these places, so if you can overcome the uncertainty of not knowing whether you’ll have accommodation for the night, booking on the day is the recommended cheapo option.
Earning love hotel loyalty points
Finally, some love hotels offer membership cards. Just like at the supermarket or the coffee shop, you can earn points, discounts and free stays with your loyalty to a certain chain. Prices for these cards vary; some of them are free, while others take a small membership fee—say ¥500 or so. Kind of a modern notch-on-the-belt (or bedpost) system. This will either give you great delight, or make you realize that you might save money moving into an apartment with thicker walls and fewer roommates.
Looking for someone to take to a love hotel? We have an article all about finding that special someone, on the cheap.
This article was last updated by Kylie van Zyl in April, 2019. While we make every effort to make sure our information is accurate, details may vary.
Our video guide to the tuna auctions at the shiny new Toyosu Fish Market