Love Hotels by Ed Jacob

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 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!

Related Links:
Review on JapanProbe by the editor, James.
Review on Gaijin Tonic.

– Havey

Movie: My Secret Cache

I recently saw the movie My Secret Cache (ひみつの花園).

To be frank, this was an extremely campy comedy with a completely ridiculous plot. The main character Sakiko, played by Naomi Nishida, is a girl who since childhood has only been able to get excited about money. When guys ask her out on a date, she checks to see if they are going to pay (それって、おごりですか? sore tte, ogori desu ka?), and if they are she asks them to call off the date and give her the money that would have been spent on her instead. Ouch!

As a young adult she gets a job at a bank (because she can get paid for counting money there) where she is unfortunate enough to get mixed up in a bank robbery. After the dust settles it turns out that she is the only living person who knows where the loot (the secret cache) the robbers failed to get away with is buried.

Without giving away too much of the plot, I can say that the rest of the movie has her getting involved in all sorts of activities for the sole purpose of getting her hands on that cash.

The whole thing is really silly… But you know what… It’s still fun. If you’re looking for yet another Japanese movie to watch to keep your language skills from wasting away, you might want to check this one out. It’s no masterpiece, but it has its moments. The comedy is really campy and slapstick… Very Japanese. The scenes could be taken straight out of a manga or anime. You know the type.

By the way, Naomi Nishida later was in other movies like Happiness of the Katakuri’s, Swing Girls, and Densha Otoko. She lead a very successful acting career and has a huge following. This was one of her earliest films.

Quirky crazy Japanese comedy. Gotta love it.

Actually, this movie has really great reviews. I didn’t find it spectacular though… A fun watch yes, but not amazing. Has anyone else seen this? What did you think? Maybe I wasn’t in the right state of mind when I watched it…

P.S. In case you’re wondering about the Kansai-ben iPhone Application, the application has been approved by Apple, but I’m still waiting for them to approve my contracts. If you Google “iTunes connect contract pending” you’ll come up with tons of threads of people complaining about how long the process takes. I’ve been waiting about 2 weeks now… So I guess I can patiently wait another 2 or 3 weeks before my head explodes. Once the contracts are approved the app will magically appear in the iTunes store, so keep your eyes peeled!

– Harvey

Marriage Hunting – Japanese Slang and Society

That says “konkatsu”. This word isn’t in your dictionary, but if you’ve been studying Kanji for quite some time and know a bit about Japanese society you can probably guess what it means. By the way, “konkatsu” was nominated for the 2008 流行語大賞, if you’re into that sort of thing.

I’ll explain this “konkatsu” slang phrase while sharing some information about modern Japanese society and teaching you the joy of Kanji.

If you’ve ever looked for a job in Japan or been around Japanese people doing the same, you’ve probably heard the phrase, “syusyoku katsudou”. This phrase means “job hunting”. More literally, it’s the activities that one engages in to find employment.

This “syusyoku katsudou” phrase is often shortened to simply, “syukatsu” (就活).

Now, to get back to this mysterious “konkatsu phrase.” This isn’t an official word or phrase, but it is popular in Japan at the moment (seems to have been around since late 2008). Especially with the “around 30” female crowd.

You can image that the following phrase would exist (it does, but it is also slang).

From what we know of the kanji in “syusyoku katsudou” this would be the activities that one engages in to get married. Or, to be more direct, to find a partner for marriage.

Now we shorten that, as Japanese love to do… and we get…

There it is! “konkatsu!” Another important related phrase is “konkatsucyuu” 婚活中 which refers to someone who is in the process of “konkatsu.”

Of course, 婚活 doesn’t only apply to women, but to men as well.

So let’s take a look at some “konkatsu” stuff in the wild.

This video explains that the “konkatsu” phrase came about because of the increasing number of young people who cannot get married. Note, these are not people who don’t want to get married, they’re people who want to get married but just can’t successfully seal the deal!

The main reasons for this, according to the video, are the high number of financially unstable young people, and a perception difference of what marriage should be all about among Japanese men and women.

A survey done with 135 single women between the ages of 25 and 35 revealed that almost 40% of them wanted to marry a guy with a salary of 6,000,000 yen a year (about 60,000 USD at 100 yen to 1 USD… which isn’t the case anymore, but I’m lazy). The reality is that only 3.5% of young men actually have salaries that exceed that amount! Come on ladies! Your standards are too high!

Also, many women want to become full-time housewives after tying the knot, but with the tough economy more and more men want their wives to work.

“Konkatsu”, the act of actively looking for a marriage partner, includes a variety of activities including…

Taking active steps to improve yourself (積極的な自分磨き)
– Like learning to walk and sit in a chair in an attractive way.

Meeting people (出会い)
– Like at a wine drinking club (after all, people who like wine seem rich).
– There is a singles bar in Roppongi where you go alone and ask the staff to invite someone you notice in the bar to come drink with you. You know, if you don’t have the guts to talk to them yourself.
– There is also a place that specializes in hooking バツイチ (people who have been divorced once) up together.

Wow. That video explains a lot!

Here we have a video of the “konkatsu bra.” Features include a konkatsu count down timer. An apron on the front to show that the lady can cook (important for marriage). A handkerchief with the important profile information of that lady, you know, blood type, age, stuff like that. A place to keep a pen so you can jot your info down at any time… and other things.

There you have it. More “konkatsu” that you’ll ever need. Anyone here “konkatsucyuu” 婚活中? Maybe we can set up a JapanNewbie 婚活クラブ。

– Harvey

A Trip to Yakushima

I realized about a week ago that I never blogged about my trip to Yakushima in October 2007. It’s a shame too, because Yakushima was one of the greatest trips that I took during my entire 6 years in Japan! I think blogging on it slipped my mind because I was a bit busy right after the trip.

It took me a while to finally travel to Yakushima because it’s a fairly out of the way place (though it still gets about 300,000 tourists every year, according to Wikipedia). First you must travel down to Kagoshima, and from there it is another boat ride before you arrive on the island.

People visit Yakushima for its natural beauty. The entire island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the old yakusugi trees found on the island are legendary. Miyazaki Hayao is said to have modeled the environment in the movie Princess Mononoke after Yakushima.

If I remember correctly, we stayed on Yakushima for 2 nights. Our main goal was to climb up to Miyanoura-dake, the highest point on the island (1,935 meters). We also went to some other areas on the island the next day after that major hike. We rented a car, which is pretty much the only way to get around the island.

We grabbed some essential supplies as soon as we arrived, including the famous shouchu brewed on Yakushima known as “Mitake” 三岳. Supplies were low at the time (maybe they’re always low?) so sales were limited to one bottle per customer. Mitake Shochu is 25%, so one bottle was plenty! Once we started seriously hiking the next day all we would drink was water anyway. The streams were so clean that we could refill our bottles right there.

After loading up we started on the trail to Miyanoura-dake. We hiked for just a few hours before darkness caught up with us and we reached Yodogawa Koya (淀川小屋), one of the first public cabins available for camping. The cabins are decent dry places where you can spread out your sleeping bag and get a nights rest. There are no lights so flashlights are a necessity. The cabin we stayed in was bunked. There was only one other older Japanese man in the cabin when we arrived, and he gave us some snacks and even more shochu as we pulled out our gear to start making dinner.

The rest of the hike was smooth. We left early in the morning even before sunrise, and we made it to the peak just about lunch time. There was a nice breeze on top and the view was spectacular. We were quickly joined by a huge group of older hiking ladies (obaasan) who befriended us (as obaasan usually do) and shared their food.

The hike back down was nice, and that night I believe we stayed in a pension back near the center of the city. The pension was basically just someones house with a couple of extra rooms, so it was a great environment.

We also went to a tiny Onsen in Yakushima that is connected to the sea. It was tiny. There was only a flimsy bamboo divider to separate the men from the women, it didn’t go down into the water and wasn’t very tall, so it was really easy to communicate back and forth across the barrier. Strange feeling. I had been to public baths and onsens a ton before, but this was kind of like taking off your clothes in the middle of no where and jumping into a hot bath with all your friends. Great bonding experience. Our group was the only one using the onsen when we arrived so we had a nice private bath by the ocean.

Another thing I remember about Yakushima was the star filled night sky from that first night at Yodogawa Cabin. It was absolutely incredible. I had never seen so many stars in my life. Especially having traveled from Osaka where the city lights are so bright you hardly ever get to see stars.

Yakushima is really a beautiful place. If you’ve been in Japan for a while and are looking for a new adventure, grab some friends and plan a trip to Yakushima! Highly recommended.

– Harvey

Study Abroad in Japan Tips from Joe in Japan

Just ran across a blog entry written by Joe who studied abroad in Japan for one year, returning to the states March 2009.

He has some good straight-forward advice on how to get the most out of a study abroad experience in Japan.

Even though I did my study abroad from 1999 to 2000, reading his comments really takes me back and makes me realize that little has changed in the world of study abroad! He has some good advice.

Anyone thinking about study abroad in Japan should check out Joe in Japan. It’s very down to earth and I think you can get a nice glimpse into what life might be like as a college student in Japan!


– Harvey

The Year of No Money in Tokyo

Wayne Lionel Aponte, the author of the recently published The Year of No Money in Tokyo, sent me a copy of his book to read and review. This was my first casual summer vacation read, and it was an interesting ride. This book did not strike me as a masterpiece, but Wayne’s experience and personal transformation throughout his “year of no money” was indeed interesting…

Interesting in the way witnessing a train wreck would be… You’re glad you’re not on the train… You feel sorry for whoever *is* on the train… but you just can’t take your eyes off it. I guess it’s a train wreck with a twist, because some how this disaster manages to get itself back together and running smoothly again. And that is quite a feat.

From what I understand, Wayne is still based in Japan, and now has been there for some twenty years. I’m going to send Wayne some questions over email that I will put together and post later if I get answers. Let me know if you have any questions you would like me to ask Wayne in the comments! It might be tough for those who haven’t actually read the book, but give it a shot anyway.

The first half of “The Year of No Money in Tokyo” struck me as yet another bitter gaijin rant written by someone who had brought themselves to Japan, gotten into trouble, and was too proud to admit defeat and leave. Wayne gets caught up in everything and everyone wrong it seems. He’s mixed up in multiple relationships, seems to take everything that happens to foreigners in Japan personally, gets thrown in jail for fighting, and of course, completely runs out of money. Eventually he is surviving on cash handouts from his girlfriends. Let me emphasize the jail and no money part. I could never imagine myself in this position in Japan, or in any country for that matter. The chapter which includes the jail scene is aptly titled, “A Fifty-Two Week Low”. JapanNewbies, if you’re going to Japan, don’t do what Wayne did. Not a role model (not at this point in the book anyway).

The book connects Wayne’s personal year of no money with the Japanese recession (specifically 1995), but the connection is weak and doesn’t quite come through. This is mostly due to the author’s attitude at this point in the book. Far more attention is drawn to the discriminatory practices of Japanese employers, and the “system” working to hold him back. One restaurant refused to hire him because they only hire “foreigners married to natives”, and he relates stories of other people who were denied jobs because of their race. The book never directly address why or why not Wayne was unable to find work, but I felt that the narrative goes out of its way to illustrate that though he was working as hard as he could to try to get back on his feet, Japan was working against him and holding him down. In my opinion, its the author’s attitude that is really holding him back. I think that by the end of the book the author comes to realize this as well.

The entire tone of this first chunk of the book is so negative that I almost put the book down and quit reading. I suspect that Wayne must have actually been writing these chapters as it was happening. The book does in fact mention that Wayne is writing during this entire ordeal, and even alludes to the book:

I, too, need to “meet inspiration halfway,” I mumble to myself. Even when I’m tired and lethargic. I have to write these Tokyo adventures down. Maybe I can help someone avoid my mistakes. p.82

An interesting thing about this entire situation is that Wayne is no slouch. He went to college in Paris and at one point had money in Tokyo. He is a voracious reader and makes many references to relevant things that he has read throughout this book, including Japanese authors such as Kenzaburo Oe. Wayne first went to Japan after accepting a good job in the city. He decided to quit that job on his own volition, expecting that he would be able to easily find other work (whoops). Obviously things didn’t go according to plan. He has been published in The New York Times, The Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The Nation at various times before this book was published. Now he teaches English at a Japanese university and various domestic companies, and does some proofing at a translation company. Not to mention that he saw this book project through to completion… So as you can see, he is certainly a capable person, which is what makes the crazy mess he got himself into all the more interesting.

The redeeming aspect of this story is that Wayne manages to pull himself out of this whole mess before the end of the book. He literally comes out of doing time in a Japanese jail (just five days) and lands two jobs teaching English at the upper end of the English teaching salary curve. He makes a conscious effort to work extra hours when possible, and completely changes his outlook on life. He mends his broken relationships, giving back to those that helped him when he was poor, and quits his womanizing ways. He even gets religious, quoting scriptures from the Bible and using them as a base for his newfound values. The transformation is incredible.

The Year of No Money in Tokyo” is a story that could have happened to anyone in any country. In my opinion there is little “Japan specific” about this story, though it is more interesting if you know something about Japan as it will give you something to relate to. The value of this book is in the personal transformation that Wayne undergoes. His determination really shines through, and by the end of the book he really seems to be a completely different person. Hopefully by hearing Wayne’s story other people will be able to skip the whole destitution and imprisonment thing and get right into leading productive and healthy lives wherever they may live.

And, one last thing before anyone asks… Here is one answer to the burning question. Why didn’t he just go home!? – from

Tyler: Why did you remain in Japan? Did you consider returning to the United States?

Wayne: Well, I felt that I had a principle to prove. Returning to the U.S. poorer than I was before I had left wasn’t in line with how I perceived myself at the time. A return home would have been read as a failure and I wanted to regard my time abroad as a success story.

And there you have it.

– Harvey [post updated 05/12/2009 to fix some factual errors]

Official Website of A Year of No Money in Tokyo
An informative interview with Wayne on

Shopping Boogie by Kasagi Shizuko

I want to introduce you to Shizuko Kasagi (1914 – 1985) and this great song called Kaimono Bugi (買い物ブギ, “Shopping Boogie”), recorded in 1950, way back during the post-war American Occupation of Japan.

Shizuko Kasagi was known as the “Queen of Boogie” 「ブギの女王」 in postwar Japan. She was born in Kanagawa but moved to Osaka with her family not long after she was born, which is the reason that she could speak Kansai dialect.

The song story goes something like this. The singer in the video has suddenly become super busy having to shop for all kinds of food items. She says she is so busy that it’s as if Obon and New Years (two major holidays in Japan) have come all at once. Everyone asking her to buy stuff… not even caring about how much trouble they are causing her. It turns out her shopping trip isn’t as successful as she would like, and the chorus line goes わてほんまによういわんわ (wate honmani you iwanwa) which is like, “Geez, I really can’t say anything about this (messed up situation).”

The lyrics in Japanese for the song are available around the web. Search Google for 買い物ブギ 歌詞 and you’ll find a bunch.

Some of the lyrics out there cut off the last segment featuring the lady who is blind and cannot read the shopping list, and others modify the segement just before that featuring the old man who is deaf. The reason for this editing is because the original lyrics use out-dated terms for “deaf” and “blind” which are now considered to be discriminatory in Japan. From my quick search… this set of lyrics is pretty good. It does cut off the last segment though. Maybe I’ll clean it up and translate some of these for a future post, and maybe roll it all into a Kansai-ben lesson. Would that be nice?

I was reading the Japanese Wikipedia page about 買い物ブギ (“Shopping Boogie”) for some background info, and actually the discriminatory language section is pretty significant. I’ll interpret a bit of it here for you.

The lyrics say, 「私つんぼで聞こえまへん。」(watashi tsunbo de kikoemahen / I am deaf, so I cannot hear you) at the scene with the elderly deaf salesman, and 「めくらのおばはん。」(mekura no obahan / blind old lady) at the scene with the lady who cannot see well enough to read the shopping list. The terms “tsunbo” and “mekura” are now considered to be offensive and inappropriate in Japan. “Tsunbo” draws a stronger reaction than “mekura” it seems, relatively speaking.

In modern renditions of “Shopping Boogie” these segments are cut out completely, or the lyrics modified to be more “politically correct”. Most of the cover versions of the song completely cut out the scene with the lady with bad eyesight, and the “tsunbo” lyrics are changed to 「私は耳が不自由で聞こえまへん。」 (watashi wa mimi ga fujyuu de kikoemahen.) “mimi ga fujyuu” is the PC expression for “deaf”, which literally means, “ears are not completely free. (As in, someone cannot use their ears freely.) Similarly, you can say 「足が不自由」to refer to someone who requires assistance walking or uses a wheelchair.

So… do you love this song as much as I do? I’m seriously hooked.

I guess I like it because it’s all in the Kansai dialect (kansai-ben), which immediately makes it awesome (in my opinion anyway), and it’s a story about an extremely tough shopping day… Fun! Also, Shizuko Kasagi is adorable. Other songs by Shizuko Kasagi include, Tokyo Boogie Woogie (東京ブギウギ) which was a huge hit in 1947, and later she also did Osaka Boogie Woogie (大阪ブギウギ) and this Kaimono Boogie.

If you have seen Akira Kurosawa’s Drunken Angel(酔いどれ天使, yoidore tenshi) you have actually already seen Kasagi Shizuko performing. She appears in this clip where the main character, a slick, yet sick, yakuza played by Toshiro Mifune is dancing in a bar when he should be resting up to take care of his illness. (GREAT movie by the way.)

Here is a more recent artist named Umekichi Hiyama (檜山うめ吉) doing Kaimono Boogie, still great, but not as fun as the original in my opinion! (biased.) Umekichi also covered another Kasagi song called Hey Hey Boogie (ヘイヘイ・ブギ) in 1994. You can hear Hey Hey Boogie on YouTube as well.

A little history, a little culture, a little language. Good stuff!

– Harvey

P.S. Learn more Kansai-ben here.

[UPDATE] If you’re interested in Kansai-ben, check our Kansai-ben iPhone Application! Japanese 101: Kansai Dialect

Japanese Music Giveaway at HearJapan is having a limited time music giveaway in anticipation of Japan Nite 2009 which happens this March. Japan Nite is a music event where musicians from Japan come to the United States to perform. This will be the 13th annual Japan Nite.

I must admit, I’m hearing about Japan Nite for the first time. In my defense, I was in Japan for the past six years, and before that I was living in the corn belt. You’ll see on the tour schedule that places like Iowa and Indiana are not going to be seeing any action. For those of you reading from the corn belt, don’t worry, just download these free tracks and crank up your speakers! It’s the next best thing.

You can get the free music sampler at HearJapan (in case you haven’t clicked already). The tracks include a band I really enjoy, OMODAKA. The free music is only available until until March 29, so don’t procrastinate too long.

By the way, if have never heard anything from OMODAKA, here are some choice tracks to get you hooked.

I love this stuff. If you’re not into these videos, don’t worry, the other bands are nothing like OMODAKA… which means I’m sure there will be something you enjoy.

Asakusa Jinta are pretty intense as well.

Oh man. I need to get tickets.

– Harvey

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