One of the things Japan is most famous for is its wide range of unique accommodation types. Traditional ryokan, space age capsule hotels and, of course, the love hotels.
Love hotels are usually pretty high on the “things to try” list for tourists to Japan, but they aren’t always the easiest attraction to navigate. They can be found all over Japan, in the biggest cities and in the tiniest villages, and they are usually recognizable by their bizarre décor and the incomprehensible names.
In Tokyo, the biggest concentration of love hotels is in Shibuya’s Love Hotel Hill (real name Dogenzaka). Finding a hotel in Love Hotel Hill can seem a little confusing and sleazy, but it isn’t really that difficult.
First, find a love hotel buddy. Maybe it's your travel partner, your boyfriend/ girlfriend or the charming and attractive lady/ gentleman you just met at a club. Be warned that some love hotels won't allow same-sex couples to stay, and some even refuse two foreigners. They won't advertise this though, so just be prepared to be refused entry.
Next, choose your love hotel. Head for Love Hotel Hill on the hill behind the 109 building in Shibuya and wander the streets. Half the fun is choosing, and the further in you go, the cheaper the hotels get, so don't be afraid to check out a few (unless you're in a terrible hurry).
Some of the options can be a little confusing, but essentially there are two choices: ‘rest’ and ‘stay’.
'Rest' means you can use the room for typically one to four hours, and can expect to pay upwards of ¥1500 for an hour. Obviously, certain times and days are more expensive, like Friday and Saturday nights, and the nights before a holiday.
'Stay' means you can stay there overnight. Usually you can check in between 8 and 11 p.m., and check out again between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. You can get a room for as little as ¥6500, but some of the really nice or extravagantly themed ones can go for as much as ¥20,000! Again, everything gets significantly more expensive on a Saturday night, so double check the price.
Most of the time the rooms are displayed on a screen near the door, and the available ones will be illuminated, so just press the button for the room you want, pay the person at the desk (who may have a screen in front of their face to give you privacy) and take your key.
So, having chosen your buddy and your room, you can head on inside and, um, play Scrabble. Or whatever.
The rooms are always equipped with ensuites with all the standard toiletries, and there is usually a TV, radio, mini fridge and coffee. If you're really lucky you might score a karaoke machine. Some of the really fancy rooms have in-room Jacuzzis or massage chairs, and some offer extras like costume rental, but that’s only if you’re dropping a ton of money to impress your buddy.
Despite their rather seedy reputation, they are usually clean, well soundproofed, and have very little natural light so you can get a good night's sleep. Compare the price to a standard hotel and it's actually a pretty decent alternative for a short stay.
If you choose to stay the night, most hotels will give you a call half an hour before check-out time, giving you enough time to shower and dress before dropping the key at the front desk and walking out into the harsh, judgmental light of day.