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Published: December 7th 2006
I strike a stately pose whilst pondering the surrounds...
This was supposed to be an artisitc photo, but it just look ridiculous!
"I want a vibrating bed!" exclaimed my travel companion, Fi. "No, let's get a fluorescent room, something more tacky", came my reply. Our voices broke the still evening air, where in the widened alleys adjacent to the neon glitz of the Shibuyu shopping precinct, lies a place affectionally known as “Love Hotel Hill”, where a plethora of accommodation awaits every type of tryst. The lateness of the hour and the weight of the backpacks curtailed most of the discussion, but the decisive factor was that the phrase "Vibrating Bed" did not appear in my phrasebook. Since photographs of rooms needed no translation, it decided us in favour of my much desired fluorescent room - but only if Fi was allowed her choice of fluorescent decor - a fair compromise.
We now began our search of the myriad of choices on offer, as we lumbered past the exteriors of places that varied from Romanesque and rococo architecture, to modern glass encased buildings. Young lovers would walk the street holding hands as they gleefully sought refuge for the evening, whilst some older couples looked decidedly embarrassed as they walked slightly apart from each other, heads downcast, and avoiding eye contact with strangers
- or even worse, someone who recognised them. Thankfully, for those who wished a higher level of discretion in finding a room, secluded carparks with discreet entrances were provided by some of the larger establishments.
Choosing a room was easy, one just needed to enter the foyers - some were simple affairs, but others were marble interiors, complete with fountains supporting Grecian style nymphs holding clay jugs from which water flowed freely into the circular pools below. Illuminated boards displaying pictures of the available bedchambers were the most prominent features of these entrances - a totally darkened board meant that the hotel was full, whereas any lighted photo indicated it was available. There were two prices - for either a “Rest” which would entail three hours of feverish activity, or a “Stay” which enabled a more traditional overnight experience. There was obviously a fair degree of copulating occurring in a Tuesday night in Tokyo, since we were greeted by many completely black display boards.
Even more unfortunate, and in order to legitimise the Hill's image, the more outré offerings have been replaced by gentrified versions. Unlike Osaka, where the famous "Hello Kitty Bondage Room"
or the bizarre options of the Plaza Angelo Group
of hotels - (notice the unusual 'facilities icons' of some rooms) are still on offer - the choice was limited between the more sedate Balinese, Arabian, and a Mickey Mouse theme. After entering half a dozen establishments, we finally found a fluorescent room which provided great appeal to Fi - one showing a rigged sailing ship at full sail, complete with billowing waves and soaring seagulls. To procure the room, Fi pressed the "Stay Button", the light was extinguished - and the room was ours. We walked to the counter, a waist-high narrow version that prevented staff inside seeing who was using their facilities, but wide enough to pay the money and collect the keys.
Taking the elevator to the third floor, we exited into an exceptionally quiet corridor, with dimly displayed neon signs on the walls and outside the room to direct us quickly to our abode - and so ensure we did not tarry in the public areas of the hotel for too long. The place Fi chose was a small affair: TV, coffee making machine, microwave, yukatas
, some discreetly placed mirrors, and individually packaged small sausage shaped coloured balloons - obviously for interior decoration. Some hotels
The control panel
You can control the world from here!
have the option of costume hire, but this was not one of them - quite disappointing, since I was keen to try on one of those fetching navy-coloured Japanese schoolgirl outfits ;-) The bathroom was another modest affair, but it did provide a full array of toiletries, and a frothing spa bath complete with a large light installed at one end, which turned the water into different hues of yellow, green and blue - though the menacing red colour made the water look more like the scene of a suicide attempt than a place to relax.
The heart of the room was the large illuminated rectangular control panel with a multitude of buttons - and the illumination of the panel provided a similar colour show to the bath lights as it alternated between yellow, green, blue, red and a lovely purple. The numerous buttons controlled the hundreds of music and radio stations on offer - all of which sounded fantastic through the thoughtfully included Bose speakers. Supposedly, some hotels even provide audio tracks of Tokyo subway announcements, thus providing a realistic sounding environment for an adulterous partner to proffer a believable alibi of their whereabouts when receiving a telephone
call from home. The control panel also dictated the different lighting moods of the room, from bright to subdued and several others inbetween. Of most import was that button 'B' activated the much sought after black light option, which saw Fi and I gasp in delight as the drab cream coloured room transformed into one of nautical splendour
Considering the comprehensive facilities of a love hotel - it would be possible to visit Tokyo carrying only a light pack with clothes and utilise love hotels every evening - as long as you check in after 10pm and check out by late morning (any later involves the charging of consecutive “Rest” rates). The added bonus is the price - under 10,000 yen for a quality room with lots of trimmings - such as spa, DVD players, and even video games - something to be considered by the curious traveller.
The next uniquely Japanese accommodation offering came in the form of a capsule hotel - somewhat akin to a massive multi-level individually partitioned dormitory. These are usually men-only affairs - and the one I stayed at in Osaka was no exception. Video screens on the outside of the hotel tempted
weary men with video footage of in-house private massages (legitimate ones mind you). Another screen showed the spa room, where several Japanese men were gently frolicking - but the image of this communal pool and spa looked suspiciously like a venue for a homosexual rendezvous - and even though I am sure this was not its design, I suspected it could be used for such a purpose if one so intended. Hasten to say, I did not avail myself of the opportunity to use the spa that evening.
Upon check in, I had to leave my oversized backpack in the store room at reception, and then needed to deposit the shoes in one of the extensive shoe lockers located in the foyer - no footwear is allowed within the hotel. Collecting my wrist band that identified me as a resident, I received my locker key and wandered through the common areas of the hotel that allowed for plenty of male bonding opportunities - poker machines, massages chairs, and a television room filled with smoking inmates. The very large bathrooms, bordered on two sides with basins, and the other two with the ablutions, had everything from toothbrushes to a variety
of strong smelling male colognes - the latter perfectly suited for an excursion to the communal spa. Throughout all of this exploring, it was apparent that I was the only foreigner here - but everyone seemed to preoccupied watching television or engaged in whispered conversation - so my presence was barely noticed.
Passing my little locker, which contained a bland navy and white yukata
, I eventually entered the capsule domain, and was confronted by a long corridor of capsules with several smaller alcoves of them branching to the side. The moulded plastic capsules were laid in two rows - an upper and lower level. The flimsy wooden pull-down shutter could not be locked, but at least it kept out the extraneous light. The inside of the capsule with far bigger than I imagined, and I could almost sit upright in one - so images of coffin sized rooms were quite misguided. The facilities were understandably spartan - a futon, pillow, alarm clock, night light and a small television that showed various cable channels - including one that was also shown in the Love Hotel - which had naked Japanese engaged in vigorous exercise, but with (in)convenient pixilation over their
naughty bits. The bed was surprisingly comfortable, and the only negative was the warmth - the pathetic air conditioning valve only emitted a whisper of air - so I removed the directional piece and a huge rush of wind poured through the capsule - much more pleasant.
The quietness of the Japanese that I had experienced in other parts of the country was also exhibited here. For though the area I was in contained approximately a hundred capsules - there was hardly any noise - and the only disturbance occurred when a person of sumo proportions climbed into the adjacent capsule - for the whole place reverberated and shook tremendously. After a peaceful evening’s sleep I was surprised in the morning to see that most of the capsules had been occupied - quite amazing considering that there was absolutely no noise during the night - yet another indication of the hushed tones with which the Japanese go about their daily affairs. After refreshing myself with cologne, I wafted away from the capsule hotel - and though the aftershave's sweet scent only remained with me a short time - the memories of these uniquely Japanese hotels will remain with me
for far longer.
Japan is a country full of wonders - and my brief journey has me yearning for a return - the thought of the food has me salivating, the sereneness of the temples brings a sense of peace, and the technological miracle of modern Japan elicits gasps of wonder. But most of all, I again desire to tread those benighted streets and scour those foyers - and wile away the evenings surrounded by the profligate allure of the love hotels.
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