This is the second part of our Japan sex underground investigation, read part i here.
Forget the British ‘dirty weekend’, the Japanese have every fetish under the Osaka Sun catered for on their doorsteps at love hotels.
Bright red ball gags dangle on the wall next to whips, chains, handcuffs, blindfolds and a dog lead. In the corner sits a grinning rocking horse with a hole in its arse – just in case you fancy a bit of “animal play”.
Welcome to room 102 at Tokyo’s famous Alpha Inn ‘Love Hotel’. It’s one of the city’s most outrageous playgrounds for sadomasochism, where every one of the 26 rooms has its own theme.
It’s a Disneyland for grown-ups, but with a lot more rides.
“It’s mostly couples having affairs during the day. Ideally you’ll expect the rooms to be occupied four times within 24 hours”
Next door in room 103 is the medical room – a One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest-style hospital ward with an examination table covered in buckled straps and an easy-clean floor ideal for hosing down after you’ve enjoyed your enema.
Love hotels are hotels – but not as we know them.
There isn’t a kettle or Corby trouser press in sight – but they do have TVs and DVD players. They’re not showing Sky though. The channels are a stream of smut.
Alpha Inn is just one of Japan’s 25,000 love hotels. And their crazed range of fetishes is hidden under a veneer of politeness .
Most of the hotels have nothing to do with love.
Punters can pay for rooms by the hour – a period politely called a ‘rest’. They’re obviously also available for overnight stays, but the hourly rate is the most popular, and the places teem with hookers and stressed businessmen ‘treating’ their mistresses to a lunch hour.
It’s a business model that works. The hotels earn around £25billion a year, despite a struggling economy. It’s not only businessmen and fetishists using the love rooms – decorated with themes featuring everything from Christmas to Halloween and Disney.
There’s also dark ‘dungeon’-themed hotels – they’re a carnival of sex. But it’s not only hookers and johns taking advantage of the facilities.
The clientele is as different as the fetishes and themes laid on in the rooms.
Youngsters who live at home use them to get their leg over without their parents overhearing. Likewise, mums and dads use them because they want to get dressed up as zombies and nosh each other’s armpits safe in the knowledge their little ones won’t walk in.
Couples might pop in to try something new, or swingers can arrange to meet and book a suite for a full-on Hello Kitty-themed orgy.
Privacy can be a problem in Japan, with homes so close together you can peep into the neighbour’s window. So love hotels offer a rare bit of private time.
The hotels are designed to protect users with hidden car parks, obscure entries, and a lobby that ensures the staff can’t see a client’s face.
There are even automated payment systems with a machine in the room, and each hotel will have a “menu” full of videos and costume options. And there isn’t not a Pot Noodle in sight in the vending machines.
Instead, they’re packed with sex toys and mini-TVs that show at least two porn channels.
Of all the love hotels, The Alpha Inn is by far Tokyo’s filthiest.
It’s been going for more than 30 years – and the love hotels are said to be recession proof. Masakatsu Tsunoda, who has been in the business for 15 years and owned the Two-Way love hotel in Tokyo’s Shibuya district for the past five said: “In the afternoon it will be mostly couples having affairs.
“In the evening it will be mostly younger people. Ideally, you would have a room occupied four times in 24 hours. Once in the morning, once in the afternoon, again in the evening and then for the night.”
“Citizens need a place to let it all out”
Unlike some of Japan’s other love hotels, pretty much anything goes at the Alpha.
They practically invite the extreme and staff are often unknowingly used to degrade punters by their dominatrix or controlling partner.
The first love hotels were regular sleeping spots that transformed themselves to avoid bankruptcy.
While some initial love hotels were made to cater for American soldiers, in the 1970s prominent architect Kurosaka Yasuhisa created the Meguro Emperor.
It was complete with gondolas, slides, and vibrating beds, all encased in a building shaped like a castle.
Then Midori Satsuki, a famous pop singer, opened a love hotel. The precedent for kitschy interiors and ridiculous architecture was launched. While many can be seen dotting highways, ready for couples to check in for the night, there are also numerous love hotel metropolises.
The largest of these is ‘Love Hotel Hill’ in Shibuya’s Dogenzaka, where an entire section of the city is devoted to road after road of the hotels, woven between nightclubs, discos, and swingers’ bars.
University of Edinburgh graduate Phil Cox directed a 75-minute documentary, Love Hotel, with Hikaru Toda.
Released earlier this year, it tells the story of the pensioners, lawyers, married couples and teenagers who frequent the Angel Love Hotel in Osaka.
Using only two small video cameras, Cox and Toda recorded a rare glimpse into the love hotel world. The footage features Angel’s managers, staff and clients – from businessmen with their mistresses to tourists simply looking for somewhere to sleep for the night.
Cox said: “They are not brothels but a space where play, fantasy and escape can be realised. They are not just for sex either, but for dressing up, karaoke and parties.
“The interest for me was that, in one space, one building, I potentially had very intimate stories of rich and poor, old and young, who all for a moment were side-by-side. In just one love hotel, I had a window into Japanese society.
“I think citizens need a place to let it all out.”
Armies of men visit the love hotels and dominatrix houses to be humiliated and abused for play, and often end up on all fours in a pair of leather Speedos with a collar around their neck and a stiletto heel pressed deep into their cheek.
There’s no doubt the life of a domina in the S&M love hotels can be a lucrative one, and there’s scope to branch out beyond the walls of Japan’s love hotels and into Japan’s sex clubs should a girl desire.
The love hotels are part of a neonsplattered Blade Runner-esque feature on the streets of Japan.
But because they’re so widespread, when you’re there, somehow it’s not hard to swallow.
Want more? Part III of Japan’s sex underground will run next Thursday, January 21, here on Loaded.