Ed Jacob sent me a copy of his book Love Hotels: An Inside Look at Japan’s Sexual Playgrounds quite some time ago, but I only got around to reading it now. My excuse is that I was only able to receive a PDF copy due to my not being in Japan and I was too lazy to read 180 pages on my computer screen. There was probably a little resistance on my part to reading a serious book about such a “seedy” topic as well. Anyway, I finally got around to reading it, and I have to say that it was much more than I was expecting!
Love Hotels by Ed Jacob
Everyone interested in modern Japan has been surprised by the love hotel phenomenon at one time or another. Ed Jacob took this fascination one step further and published a book documenting his extensive research on the love hotel industry in Japan.
Just a quick note on what love hotels are for those who may not know. Basically, love hotels are hotels throughout Japan that usually have two options. You can pay for a “rest” there and stay for a few hours, or you can pay for a “stay” and spend the night. The hotel rooms are usually decorated in extreme ways, from everything to fake beach resort rooms, to rooms with mirrors from floor to ceiling, to Hello Kitty themed rooms, to strange S&M style rooms complete with chains. Nowadays the rooms also often have video game systems or huge flat-screen TVs. Most people understand these hotels to be places where couples will go to get intimate. This book goes into a much deeper explanation.
LOVE HOTELS does a great job of explaining the cultural significance behind love hotels, as well as the details regarding the design and features of specific hotel locations. Ed explains that because of the lack of privacy in every Japanese life due to the cramped apartments with thin walls and other reasons, love hotels are not simply about young couples running off to have sex, but married adults will even use love hotels to get some private time away from relatives or family (in Japan parents often live in with their married sons or daughters).
Ed Jacob writes:
“Think about how nice it would be, after having been crammed in against a bunch of sweaty salary men in the tight confines of a downtown commuter
train, to be crammed in against a loved one in a room that lets you feel like
you‘re in a foreign country, far away from your boring job or ordinary home
in the suburbs. “
Ed goes through the history building up to love hotels as they are today, explaining everything from adamu iibu, which means Adam and Eve and was a Japanese term for outdoor sex, to Edo period deai chaya. Deai chaya, tea houses where people could “meet up” and get a private room, and are the places where many of the scenes in the famous Ukiyo-e paintings took place.
Ed really has done his research and goes on to explain the successors of deai chaya, including machiai, kaseki, tsurekomi yado or tsurekomi ryokan, and the surprising soba-ya. Yes, that’s buckwheet noodle shop! The story behind this strange connection of noodles and love is told in this book.
The historical anecdotes are fascinating. The author also includes addresses of historical establishments that have been converted to more modern purposes, so you can even go and visit if you like. On the same note, it also includes contact information and profiles for love hotels including rankings on kinkiness, romance, and style for many love hotels across Japan.
Language buffs will also have fun with this one. I found myself going to my dictionary more than once to look up the colorful phrases introduced in LOVE HOTELS. For example, most JapanNewbie readers will know that real geisha were not prostitutes (though they would occasionally sleep with particularly high profile customers). But did you know that there was another phrase for lower class geisha who would sleep with just about anyone? The term used was mizuten 見ず転 which literally means, “to fall without looking.” Naruhodo!
Ed also goes into detail describing some of the props used in modern and historical love hotels including what he calls the “apex of Japanese bed technology”, the ‘Sky Revolver’. This was a bed hat would rise up to the mirror-covered ceiling while rotating. Awesome.
He also explains the legal world behind love hotels, like the public morals act, which made “fancy” beds like the Sky Revolver illegal, among other things, and other laws which have effectively made it impossible for any new love hotels to open. He explains the crazy legal loopholes that allow call girls to exist despite prostitution being illegal in Japan, and how soap lands and other institutions that are obviously sexual in nature can operate in full view of the law.
LOVE HOTELS also includes translations of the “graffiti notebooks” left in some love hotels around Japan. These primary source anecdotes give an interesting look into the minds of the people using love hotels. The featured journal entries include men and women, young and old. From reading the entries it seems that people often use them as a place to confess their true feelings with the comfort that no one will ever be able to link them with the journal.
The book even contains a “behind the scenes” chapter where the author explains in detail the personalities of love hotel managers, and minute details on how exactly love hotels are cleaned… Another fun chapter introduced the darkside of the love hotel industry including information on prostitution in Japan, and some true crazy love hotel murder mysteries that have happened in the past. We’re talking celebrity bodies under mattresses… for multiple nights in a row! Crazy stuff.
One chapter includes an extremely detailed guide that walks the reader through a stay at a love hotel. It starts at the very beginning, including how to bring the topic up (or discretely imply it) with your girlfriend (84% of the time the guy delivers the invitation according to the book), to how to make a room selection once you get into the lobby, and advice telling you to take your date to a coffee shop after the visit rather than going straight home.
I wrote this review as I read LOVE HOTELS, and I realized that it was getting a bit long even before I reached page 30 of this 180+ page book. The author has a lot to say here, and it’s interesting. I would highly recommend LOVE HOTELS for anyone who wants to understand the love hotel phenomenon in Japan on a deeper level, or has a general interest in the quirky aspects of Japanese society.
The Amazon reviews are pretty harsh for LOVE HOTELS. The critical reviews are not unfounded though. I noticed a lot of grammatical errors in the book as I read it. Distracting yes, but it is still readable and I’m sure this will be fixed in future revisions. Also, I noticed that sometimes the book seemed to repeat itself across chapters. Maybe this is intentional so that it can serve as a “coffee table book” that you can pick up and start reading anywhere without missing essential background information, but it is a little bit annoying when you’re reading it cover to cover. Given all that, it must be noted that LOVE HOTELS only costs 15 bucks on Amazon.com. If I were living in Japan or planning to visit I would gladly pay 15 dollars for this book simply for the reviews locations and pictures of all of the love hotels.
This is pretty good stuff. If you’re interested check it out!
Review on JapanProbe by the editor, James.
Review on Gaijin Tonic.