As humans, we tend to love all things taboo. Skirting the edge of what’s acceptable has a certain thrill to it, and who doesn’t like a little rush now and then? But sometimes it’s easier to think of something as a taboo rather than part of everyday life. And that’s not always fair. One famous “taboo” is the Japanese love hotel (rabu hoteru or just rabuho). Japan’s version of the “no-tell motel” where a couple can sneak off for some... privacy. Love hotels are everywhere in Japan: from big cities with whole districts of love hotels like Tokyo and Osaka to smaller towns with one option near the highway. Do these hotels really deserve their cheeky reputation? And should that prevent you from staying in one? Maybe, maybe not. However, the industry itself is looking to expand into full hospitality, and that’s reason enough to give them a chance.
Tokyo may get all the press, but Osaka in particular has a deep connection to Japan’s love hotel culture. And notably these hotels are flashy, luxe, and often near large entertainment areas. Plus, if you play your cards right, you could end up getting a little extra glamour and a cheaper rate after a long night drinking in Namba. They’re unique, daring, and often a bargain, and is that not pure Osaka? So, even if you’re alone, here’s why you should consider booking a stay at an Osaka love hotel.
Love Hotels are basically short-term stay hotels that offer specialty adult-only services. They can be anything from a clean room with a bed to a small private spa to a replica of 16th century French architecture. These hotels are usually easy to spot: buildings can take the form of a castle or even a cruise ship. But the telltale list of pricing outside is the easiest way to find one. The pricing varies with weekend or weekday rates as well as an overnight stay or a couple hour rest (kyuukei).
The need for love hotels came out of a combination of Japanese housing design and postwar legal changes. Japanese homes, especially during the early 20th century, didn’t have a lot of privacy. One main room would function as the sitting, eating, and sleeping space over the course of a day. This didn’t give couples much privacy, especially for young adults still living with their family. The first answer to this problem was the enshuku or one-yen room. Enshuku were rooms in regular hotels rented out hourly instead of nightly for couples and “professional” women. Eventually their name changed to tsurekomi inns (from the phrase “bring along”). By the 1960s, many brothels moved their operations to these inns as a response to the Prostitution Prevention Law. Renting rooms to couples proved to be more profitable than traditional sex work and tsurekomi grew more upscale with competition.
The “upscale” tsurekomi inns would become today’s love hotels. The term itself comes from the Hotel Love in Osaka, built in 1968. For most of Japan’s economic heyday, owners marketed love hotels as adult playgrounds. This tends to be their reputation when most people think of them today. However, with a changing economy and social landscape, love hotel owners needed to adapt. So while the more adult features of love hotels still draw quite a few customers, now owners seek to book more varied customers.
At least in the US, a one-night stay at an adult-themed motel doesn’t scream “luxury.” That’s not the case for Japanese love hotels. Market trends revealed that women often choose which love hotel couples visit, and that choice is often based on amenities, cleanliness, and style. As a result, love hotels all over the country boosted their glam factor, especially in large cities.
What does this extra swank mean? It means things like spacious rooms (like 140m2) with huge beds, spa-like bathrooms, balconies, and open-air private hot tubs. And that doesn’t begin to cover the line of bath products, large accessory rentals service (like phone chargers), and room service--all accessed by private digital services in the room.
But you can book a luxury hotel that doesn’t have a shady reputation, so why go for a love hotel? One reason: the price. If you’re a budget traveler, that usually means compromises. A lot of compromises. And usually that price cut comes from lodging and transportation (to afford more experiences). But if you book a suite in a more expensive love hotel the price will be comparable to even thrifty budget options.
In Osaka, this gets you comfort and savings near all the popular sites. Let’s look at an example. Umeda is a popular shopping area close to big transit and a favorite for staying in Osaka. A night stay for a luxury room at a love hotel with a balcony, outdoor bath, and full spa costs around ¥9000. A comparable room at a traditional hotel? Around ¥18000. Now, these are weekday prices and weekend prices tend to be a bit steeper.
The bottom line: if you wanna save some money, get that trendy Osaka neighborhood, and treat yourself? A love hotel is the best way to go.
OSAKA LOVE HOTEL PERK #2: SPECIAL DEALS (ESPECIALLY FOR LADIES)
Pretty much all hotels can host special events or offer business stay packages. But for the most part these are limited to larger groups or come at a higher mark-up honeymoon price. Unless you’re a big hotel chain rewards member you usually can’t get special deals for individuals or small groups. However, you can get some perks at a love hotel.
Starting in 2017 the government started converting under-performing love hotels into standard hotels. To avoid closure appealing to more customers was key. In addition to changing fanciness levels to appeal to women in couples, love hotels started trying to appeal to single women. And this came in the form of some sweet package deals.
Probably the most appealing of these deals: the ladies’ night package. Some love hotels have started offering larger rooms for a group of women looking to have a cheeky party. The hotel provides a selection of drinks, bath products, and other gifts unique to the love hotel business. And some of these packages are as low as ¥4000.
These aren’t overnight stays, though. They take advantage of the hourly kyuukei rates, but that’s exactly why they’re such a great option. What’s a better place to have an absolutely crazy night out than a hotel? For ladies traveling with friends, booking a love hotel ladies’ night deal would be the beginning of an unforgettable night out. As far as continuing the night, is there any place better for partying than Namba?
For solo flyers, there are also birthday packages if you want a story to tell all your friends back home. Of course there are deals for couples as well, like full in-room spa packages. These deals will require a bit more Japanese knowledge to book. Be sure to brush up ahead of time!
OSAKA LOVE HOTEL PERK #3: A WHOLE DIFFERENT EXPERIENCE
It’s probably the most obvious reason, but love hotels will give you a super unique hotel stay. And that’s reason enough to stay in one. There are raunchy options, like hotels focusing on BDSM lodging, and some that are just plain off-the-wall, like a Hello Kitty themed love hotel. Tokyo may have the bigger reputation, but Osaka holds its own.
In the northern district there’s the Hotel Chapel Christmas Umeda. Yes, it’s a Christmas themed love hotel. In Japan, Christmas is a playful holiday and Christmas Eve is one of the biggest date nights of the year. This Umeda love hotel is toned down compared to other Christmas love hotels. Instead of glow-in-the-dark Santas in the corner, each room is decorated more like a British bed and breakfast at Christmas time. But the lobby and amenities are still very ho-ho-ho.
Near Dotonbori, Hotel Bali An Namba has rooms that feel straight out of Bali. With huge tubs and tropical decor, it’s not something you’d find in Japan outside of Okinawa. These hotels are some of the highest ranked in the city, competitive with standard hotels. Of course that comes at a price, but aren’t all vacations in Bali expensive?
For the classic, cheesy love hotel, you have to stay at Hotel Public Jam. Some rooms are standard, but if you plan ahead you can get one of the many themed rooms this hotel offers. Have you ever wanted to sleep on an 18th century voyage ship? You can now! Ever felt like your hotel room was missing a vintage car? Problem solved! The quirks are next level in this hotel, and it makes sense. Tennoji has one of the larger concentrations of love hotels in the city. So, Public Jam has to stand out.
Booking love hotels has gotten much easier than it was in the past, particularly for travelers. Once limited to only walk-in booking for the same night (or afternoon), now love hotels are starting to take reservations. Some of these hotels are on mainstream websites like booking.com with listings in English. That’s the other thing: like most businesses, more love hotels are becoming bilingual. Of course, this isn’t the case for all love hotels. The cheaper options are also more likely to be Japanese-only with no online presence.
Check-in and walk-in reservations are very different from standard hotels. For the most part, there’s a screen listing all the available rooms. After selecting a room, you go to a counter to pay and get the keys. Sometimes the counter is partially or fully covered--privacy is key here. In some newer, super high-end places this entire process can be automatic. Once getting to your room the door will lock behind you and there’s no re-entry. But who really needs to leave a hotel room after checking in for the night, right?
After hard selling the idea of love hotels, there are some important things to remember. Nearly all of these hotels don’t have check-in times before 10pm, or 12am in some cases. That can pose a problem if you have a lot of luggage, or if your plane lands in the early afternoon. These hotels are intended to be short-term stay, so it makes sense luggage wouldn’t be a priority. However, the evolving hotel market and upcoming Olympics may change this in the future.
Additionally, if you are traveling with a friend of the same sex or perceived gender you may be denied service. For women or female-presenting groups this may not be an issue due to things like ladies’ night promotions. However, for men and male-presenting couples this will almost definitely pose a problem. Japanese lawmakers’ stance on LGBT rights is changing, but hasn’t yet reached large-scale inclusion. There are reports that some love hotels in Tokyo are becoming more inclusive, but this is difficult to confirm. Moreover, despite Osaka’s own thriving LGBT community, not many laws exist to prevent discrimination. Keep this in mind if you are a member of the LGBT community or if you want to book a room with a friend.
Sure, love hotels may not be the first thing you think about when visiting Japan. The darker reputation might scare you off or you might not be comfortable with some of the other guest activities. But they are such an experience. And experiences are the best part of travel, whether abroad or nearby. A love hotel in Osaka will give you another glimpse into Japan and the city. If you have the chance, it’s worth checking out. Or checking in. You may end up with a jacuzzi view of the city skyline that wasn't affordable before. Or you might just get the biggest bed to collapse on after a long night in Amemura. Either way, give love hotels a chance when you stay in Osaka. They might just charm you into staying longer.