They are one of the most striking features of Japanese cities — streets of windowless buildings, adorned with gaudy neon, displaying the cost of rooms rented by the hour. Now the government is on a drive to convert Japan’s “love hotels” into much needed accommodation for tourists.
If it works then families visiting Tokyo for the 2020 Olympics will stay in converted hotels which until recently echoed to the sound of couples enjoying erotic trysts.
Shinzo Abe’s government is encouraging love hotel operators to tear out the revolving beds, mirrored ceilings and in-room adult TV channels, and refurbish their premises to meet an increasing shortage of hotels. Yoshihide Suga, the chief cabinet secretary, has met love hotel magnates and urged them on. “As things are now, love hotels across the country can cater to 28 million guests a year,” Takaaki Kanazawa, the owner of a chain of love hotels who led the delegation, said. “We can support the government’s idea of a nation for tourism.”
Love hotels are not brothels and, although they may be used by prostitutes, their goal is discretion. Their entrances are shielded from public view, and money — about 6,000 yen (£45) for two hours — is passed through a waist high slot, so staff never see the faces of their customers.
More expensive love hotels are themed, with rooms decked out to resemble medieval torture chambers, Venetian gondolas or, in one case, the space shuttle Columbus. They thrived in an era when apartment walls were thinner and the stigma of sex between unmarried couples was greater. Changing morals and an ageing, less sexually active population have hit their profitability.
The number of tourists visiting Japan has risen dramatically. In 1964, when Tokyo first hosted the Olympics, Japan had 352,000 visitors — in 2020, it expects to attract 40 million.
At the urging of Mr Kanazawa, the government will reclassify love hotels from sex-related to tourism businesses, making it easier to borrow money to refurbish premises.