You might not think of Tokyo as a city of romance - but that's where you're wrong. The Japanese capital might be best known for its culture, food and entertainment, but it's also home to some of the country's best love hotels, or rabuho.
Yep, these are hotels that are dedicated to the art of lovemaking - either by the hour or the night. In a huge city of over 37 million residents, it's no surprise that couples are going to need some privacy now and again, hence the popularity of the love hotel. However, they're not just for locals - tourists can also enjoy the fun of a love hotel, even if they're travelling alone and want to try something out of the ordinary.
If you're ready to trade your bland corporate hotel chain for neon-lit beds, mirrored ceilings and outrageously themed rooms, here's what you need to know about the saucy side of Tokyo's love hotels - from someone who's been there.
The first modern love hotel opened in Osaka in 1968, named the 'Hotel Love' - the name has since become the universal term to represent a hotel where couples can go to be alone for a few hours. In an expensive city like Tokyo, where so many young people live at home and multiple generations share one roof, love hotels play a vital role in giving couples an affordable and discreet place where they can be alone together.
However, the concept goes back to Japan's Edo period in the 17th century, where inns and tea houses were built with separate entrances for those visiting for more illicit purposes.
What to Expect When You Visit
What's it like to actually stay at a love hotel? On a trip to Tokyo, curiosity got the best of me, and I spent a night at one. It's certainly an experience unlike anything else!
First, it's normal to feel a bit awkward walking in - I certainly did. After all, it's no secret why you're going! However, try not to feel weird, as everyone is welcome in love hotels and they're a space free from judgment. Some hotels even let you check-in via a computer screen if you're worried about feeling uncomfortable.
If you haven't made a reservation yet, don't worry -the nature of love hotels means that they cater to walk-ins and last-minute bookings. However, if you want to stay overnight, or are visiting at a busy time of year, like during sakura (cherry blossom season), it's better to make a reservation ahead of time, as many hotels reach capacity.
I don't speak Japanese, so if you're visiting from overseas, try to stick to one of the more popular love hotels if you're worried about communication barriers. My top tip - if the hotel's website is in both English and Japanese, that's a good indication that they cater to international visitors. Even if you don't know much Japanese and the reception isn't fluent in English, most hotel staff will speak enough English to walk you through the check-in process. Many Japanese hotels prefer cash payments still, and love hotels are no exception-check when you make your reservation.
In a traditional love hotel, once you're in your room, there's no going in and out until you're ready to leave, as exiting your room is a signal to the hotel that you're checking-out. You also won't have amenities like breakfast, luggage storage, or concierge either-you're simply paying for the room itself. After your allotted duration, you head back downstairs and pay for your time. However, love hotels that double as tourist hotels will offer these services and let you come and go, so check before you book.
Guests pay a flat fee for a rest (an hourly stay) or a stay, which means an overnight stay, but any additional services are an extra cost. Soap, shampoo, and condoms are generally complimentary, but you'll also find quite a few unusual add-ons to your stay. This could be anything from adult movies, sex toys, massage devices, room service, or extra towels-in case things get really wild. Your hotel will have a menu that lists all the available extras and their cost.
When it comes to your room, does size matter? One thing that stands out about the love hotels is their size. Japanese hotel rooms tend to be very compact, but love hotels are known for being more spacious, with a very large bed, lounge area, and often a Jacuzzi or private outdoor onsen.
If you're staying in a more modern rabuho, your room won't look too different than a contemporary hotel room. However, the older style love hotels tend to feature the most out-there decor, from themed rooms, hot tubs, round beds, and crazy mood lighting.
The whole experience is a bit surreal and unlike anywhere I've ever stayed before. However, I'd recommend it to anyone looking to see the city from a new angle. Whether or not you find it sexy is up to you, but it's certainly a quintessential Tokyo experience!
A Few of Tokyo's Most Famous Love Hotels
If curiosity gets the better of you, make your trip to Tokyo one to remember with some of the city's most popular hotels. I've recommended these hotels because they're not only some of the city's most famous, but they also cater to international guests.
Set in Toshima, a short walk from Ikebukuro Station, the Hotel Zebra is colourful and ready to party. All rooms include a complimentary karaoke machine and guests can enjoy rainbow-lit baths, and, of course, a lot of zebra print decor.
And if you've had enough fun between the sheets, you can pass the time by renting video games, board games, and even a planetarium machine, broadcasting the night sky across your walls. You can book from a half-hour up to overnight.
Hotel Sara Kawagoe
The Hotel Sara Kawagoe, located in Kawagoe, is both a love hotel and a tourist hotel, catering to overnight stays, with a continental breakfast included.
If you're all about the bling, you'll love the wild decor at this love hotel. From gold lame bedding, metallic walls, and bright neon lighting under the beds, this is definitely a hotel stay you'll remember.
You can find love hotels that cater to just about any interest, so if you're looking for something out of the ordinary, visit the Hotel Alpha-In-if you dare. Simply, the Alpha-In is all about kink and BDSM.
It looks intimidating from the outside, and once in the room, you'll find just what you're looking for-whips, handcuffs, and blindfolds, with more risque gear available for rent.
The Meguro City based Meguro Emperor is one of Tokyo's original love hotels, with an emphasis more on luxury than wild design. It turns heads as soon as you see it, with an exterior that resembles a European castle.
Inside, you'll find elegant rooms in a golden decor, with just enough pizazz to remind you that this isn't your grandma's hotel. All rooms are soundproofed, of course, and come with a spa bath.
What's not to love about Tokyo's love hotels? Consider booking one on your next trip to Japan and try it out for yourself!
See also: The top 20 things to do in Tokyo