Many traditional Japanese sliding doors do not lock.  It is common for a Japanese couple to bring their elderly in laws into their home to care for them.  The size of the average Japanese home is 1,300 sq ft.  It is no wonder that Japanese couples would need to look outside the home in order to find some romantic privacy.

The “love hotel” industry booms in Japan by providing private and discrete places for lovers to retreat.  These businesses are not frequented solely by devoted couples who just need some time away; they also service illicit affairs and prostitution as well.  What a couple (or more, who am I to judge) uses the room for is entirely their business, and love hotels are built with this in mind.

The buildings are often windowless,  and their doors are obscured behind high hedges or other barriers to help hide who comes and goes.  From the lobby, customers can select a room from a wall of back-lit pictures; occupied rooms are dimmed, while available rooms are brightly lit. Interactions with the receptionist are not face-to-face, and are handled discretely by passing payment methods and keys through a hole in a blind-covered window.

If you’ve seen love hotels online before, you likely have the impression that they’re tailored to all manner of over-the-top interests.  The internet is awash with photos of Hello Kitty themed S&M rooms, beds shaped like race cars, or even a room where you can get romantic inside a giant cup of instant ramen.  Keep in mind, the reason these photos are so popular, is because they’re highlighting the most outrageous themes; not all love hotels are designed for kinky Smurf role-playing.  While a multitude of tastes are catered to, many love hotel rooms simply focus on big beds, mood lighting, and private baths.

Love hotels (also known as Couples Hotels and Boutique Hotels) are increasingly popular with tourists because of their rates and ease of access; after all, a love hotel can be rented by-the-night, or by-the-hour, making it an interesting place to nap for a few hours before continuing your trip.

Some love hotels also sell or rent various costumes and other items for customers, from vending machines available in-room or in hallways.  Though customers may not always be able to avoid bumping into other people in the halls or lobby, it’s a far cry better than running into your mother-in-law or kids on your way to your room after a romantic dinner.  Love hotels serve an important purpose in a country where privacy is at a premium.

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