Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Love Hotel Letdown

Wayne and I decided that on our recent trip to Osaka, rather than stay in a standard hotel, to stay in a Love Hotel. This was partly to try to save some money, partly because neither of us had ever done the Love Hotel thing and partly because I’d heard that Osaka had some of the wildest Love Hotels in Japan. I wanted to photograph one for the book.

A love hotel is not usually a romantic candle-lit room, but rather a place where you can hire a room by the hour to get a little “loving”. You do need to supply your own partner.

Before we went to Osaka I did some research on the Internet. Rooms with a Hello Kitty S&M doll, bumper cars, a rooftop Cadillac or a carousel caught my attention. Rooms modeled on a high school classroom, a prison cell or train carriage conjured disturbing yet intriguing images. I mapped out the area with the best selection of love hotels to choose from and couldn’t wait.

The love hotels offer a number of different options for usage, including a “rest” and a “stay”. The “rest” rate allows the user to have the room for anywhere between 90 minutes and 3 hours depending on the hotel. With the “stay” option check-in is from about 10pm on a Friday or Saturday night and check out around 11am the next day. It was this that we wanted.

After a full day of playing tourist in Osaka we made our way to our chosen love hotel area. I had two particular hotels in mind, The Adonis and Gang Snowman. We wandered the streets for a while looking for them, dragging our sore feet, a little excited at the same time. In the small grid, we found Hotel Broccoli, Be Loose, Hotel HP, Green Gables, Aphrodite and Myth to name a few, but neither of the ones I wanted. By this time we were both footsore, tired and grumpy.

Two hotels had smiling attendants out the front dressed in white uniforms gesturing for us to enter their hotel. This was not what I had expected. From what I had read and heard, I was expecting discretion, privacy, not people trying to usher me in like seedy strip club touts. To me it was like someone saying “Come in, come in, because we know what you’re going to do in there… wink, wink, nudge, nudge..”

By now I had to resolve myself to choosing somewhere else. My normally sweet, patient husband was now snappy, crabby and walking five paces ahead of me. I agreed to choose one of the hotels in the area we’d seen, on the condition that it had an interesting room.

“I liked the one with the cartoon characters all over the building” Wayne said.

“I don’t care what you like, I want a funky room to photograph” I barked at him in reply.

In the foyer of the first hotel pictures of the rooms were on a board with the available ones lit up from behind. No such luck there. All the rooms looked normal, but with awful interior decorating.

“Hotel HP looked nice” Wayne said in a hopeful voice.

“Not the point” I snapped back.

With Wayne too scared to speak and me silently daring him to do so, we systematically entered and quickly left the foyer of hotel after hotel. I rejected each of them. Finally in one, we found a “Concept Room” board. No pictures of actual rooms, just of their “concept”. Upon a quick glance I saw outer space, Egypt, Africa, other exotic locations and some science fiction themes. Jackpot! We’d found our hotel and not a moment too soon. My bubble of elation was burst suddenly. A large neon sign told me to “WAIT”, as all of the rooms were booked out. Behind me were three other couples waiting. Without a word I walked out, tears of disappointment, tears of frustration, tears of exhaustion already rolling down my cheeks.

From that hotel’s front door I walked. Too tired to make a decision now, I walked with Wayne beside me telling me it was alright, that we would find a good place. In the distance, I spied two bright neon lights. These became my beacons in the night. “Last Chance” I told myself. As long as they had a room available, no matter how boring, we would stay in one of those hotels, as otherwise, I was ready to sleep on the damp concrete pavement.

As we got closer, before I could even read the brightly lit sign, I grew excited. Two white circles, a smaller one on top of a larger – a snowman! We’d found it! Gang Snowman! The oasis in a desert. I crossed my fingers. Dodgem cars, dodgem cars, please let the room with the dodgem cars be available. With renewed energy we quickened our pace and bounded into the foyer. My eyes excitedly scanned the board, dodgem cars, dodgem cars. No dodgem cars. Neither lit nor dark. “That’s ok, that’s ok,” I mumbled to myself “Let’s see what else they have.” Rooftop Cadillac, there it was, but the picture was dark. It was already taken. At this point, my eyes slowed. The board contained pictures, both lit and dark of ugly room after ugly room. Nothing bizarre. Nothing kinky. Nothing kitsch. Only rooms decorated by someone’s grandma on a budget without an eye for colour. Maybe bad taste was the new kitsch. Funnily enough, each room picture had little stick figures underneath with suggestions of how we could entertain ourselves while in there. I couldn’t decide on whether to sleep in a hideous yellow, orange or peach room, so while they were completely irrelevant, I chose our room on these stick figures. I looked at them and thought “No, I don’t have the flexibility for that anymore, too tired for that one..”, so peach won out in the end.

The picture went dark when I pressed the button in the corner and out spat a ticket with the room number. “Ok,” I said looking at Wayne, “so what do we do now?” I had heard of hotels with lights showing directions but this foyer was a mass of lights that would make a 70s disco look dull. I started to panic. Wayne was as dumbfounded as I was.

A woman came out of a door hidden in the badly painted wall and asked “Japanese?”

“Only a little” I confessed.

She shoved two laminated A4 sheets into my hands and gestured towards the elevator. Wanting to hide from the world at this point, I jumped into the lift dragging Wayne with me. Under the UV lights the glowing page instructed me in English how to get out of the hotel. Not in an emergency, just how to get out, period.

The room was not hard to find. As we stumbled in, an automatic payment machine began ranting at us in Japanese. Telling it to “shut the hell up” had no effect whatsoever. The printed instructions told me that I had to press a button to indicate our wish to “stay”. I looked and looked, but the button simply wasn’t there, or at least written in the same kanji that was on the sheet. However, the paper also told me that I didn’t need to pay until I wanted to leave and the machine went quiet after a while so I was happy to wait until morning to figure it all out.

The room was even ghastlier than it had appeared in the picture downstairs. And it stank. The stale cigarette smoke of couples past had permeated the bed, the bedding, the sofa and the horrible wallpaper. Under a huge flat screen TV was a vending machine with a difference. Cans of soft drink had been replaced with different “toys” that could be used to pass the time in the room.

There was a karaoke machine and microphone, playstation handsets and a small slot machine. The peach bedspread featured cute little snowmen with their cute little snow castles.

An internal door took us to the bathroom, which looked more like it belonged in a five star hotel room rather than the horrible one we were in. It was pristine and tasteful. The counter greeted us with a huge array of sample-sized toiletries, individually packed toothbrushes, a hairbrush and razor. A basket was filled with large fluffy peach towels and there was a small TV screen beside the computerized toilet. The door to the shower opened up to a whole other room. It was huge! Under the wall mounted shower was a small seat, a basin and more toiletries. The opposite wall had a couple of handrails with a cute little stick figure drawing suggesting how we might wish to use them. And then there was the bath! It was long, deep, molded and fittingly, large enough for two. It came with juccuzi jet and bubble bath and sat under yet another TV screen. Perfect to ease our aching legs.

It wasn’t long before I was ready to crash. With Wayne still soaking in the tub, I returned to the awful peach room.

Cool fluorescents and the TV screen brightly lit the room. Playing with the many buttons by the bed, I went through a variety of lighting options until the overhead and bedside lights were off. This left the room basking in a blue glow coming from the TV. I fiddled further with a remote and managed to turn it off, but its annoying light was replaced by equally annoying music. I switched the music off, on came the TV. TV off, music on. Music off, TV on. Eventually, with a quiet room, I threw the peach bedspread littered with snowmen over my head to block out the light and tried to sleep.

Just as I was falling into the soft comfort of sleep, the lights came on, then music, then the music was off and TV was on. Wayne was flicking through the remote like I had not long before. Deciding this time on the music option, I tried once again to get to sleep. As I drifted off for a second time, I was jolted awake buy a horrible computerized voice screeching “Okane okudasai, okane okudasai.” The automatic machine at our front door was demanding to be paid. Every thirty seconds it insisted “Okane okudasia, okane okudasai.”

Scrambling for the supplied English instructions, I rushed to the door. “Shut up! Shut up! Shut the hell up!” Completely disregarding my pleas, the machine continued “Okane okudasai, okane okudasai.”

The instructions in my hand were useless. All of the buttons it told me to push weren’t on the machine model in front of me. What concerned me even more was a note that once we had paid, the door would only be unlocked for five minutes, then relocked and another paid session would begin. “Okane okudasai, okane okudasai.” It was in the middle of the night, we had no intentions of leaving until daylight and certainly not of paying more than once for this hideous room. “Okane okudasai, okane okudasai.” The machine obviously had no intentions of letting up on its demands. “Okane okudasai, okane okudasai.” If I was to get any sleep, I had no choice but to call through to reception. “Okane okudasai, okane okudasai.”

As in my exhausted state I couldn’t understand what I was told over the phone, within minutes an embarrassed staff member came to our door. He told my teary self that even though we weren’t leaving until the morning, we needed to pay the machine to shut it up. They would fix the machine from reception so that we weren’t charged twice.

Our 9000 yen room suddenly cost over 11000 yen due to hidden service charges that were added on. So much for us saving money, it would have been cheaper to stay in a business hotel.

By now I found that any sound grated on me, so we turned the music off, draped the TV in fluffy peach towels and went to sleep bathed in a red glow.
After what ended up being a good nights sleep, we were woken in the morning by sounds of our neighbours’ activities. The walls were way too thin for this type of establishment. A leisurely bubble bath and all the great toiletry samples got us ready to face the world once more. Consulting the English instructions for the last time, I located the button on the automatic machine to unlock the room. Not willing to risk being locked back in, Wayne and I put our bags near the door and were ready to go. I pressed the button, opened the door and quickly jammed it open with my camera bag. We hurriedly stepped into our shoes and ran out into a fresh new day. The stay had been an experience, but we both agreed that it wasn’t one we wanted to do again in the near future.


Mel & Seigo said...

Am I allowed to laugh? just a little? ;)

azumarisan said...

I know how you feel. When i was in Japan, hubby and i decided to find a love hotel because when i was a student i'd been told about love hotels by my teacher and told they had great themed rooms etc. We asked around hubby's friends on where to go and were told a few places. So we decided to go by taxi to this one place called Hotel I.D in Obihiro. Well, it wasn't really what we expected. There were no real themed rooms and it was pretty expensive to stay overnight, but because we had gone by taxi, we really didn't have much choice. We chose one of the more inclusive rooms that had a sauna included. I don't know why it had a sauna in there, because there was no spa or anything, just a regular bath. The bed looked like it came from the 50's, it was one of those ones with the radio in the headboard. I was less than impressed. There weren't even any wacky toys or vending machines so at least you were lucky in that respect. The thing about having either the tv on or the music on, reminds me of those trucks that go around the neighbourhood shouting out political slogans and the music that plays at 6am in the morning from the loudspeaker near grandma's house in aomori...japanese people are used to these noises but we find them so invading to our privacy. It's another one of those japanese cultural quirks i'm afraid.

Ralph & Cynthia said...

Oh Wayne, I feel so sorry for you. I can imagine the state that Melanie was in ... how did you cope?

Melanie - a delightful story, your mother will love it.

You poor things!

Badaunt said...

The Man and I stayed at a love hotel once, also to save money, and had pretty much the same experience. The best thing about it, I decided, was the huge, spotless bath. Normal hotels here have TINY showers.

The payment system at the place we stayed was a bit surprising. The Man talked to reception on the phone while I was brushing my hair. We'd just been discussing the bill and wondering how we'd pay, because so far we hadn't seen a soul, and concluded that anonymity would have to be broken for the payment procedure.

But then, while The Man was still on the phone, the mirror suddenly popped out of the wall and bopped me gently on the head. Turned out it was actually the door to a hidden cupboard with a vacuum tube thingy behind it. The bill was inside the tube. We put our payment in, closed the tube, and our money was sucked away noisily. We were still laughing when the receipt and change arrived via the same route.

Not exactly the latest technology (I remember an old department store having the vacuum tube payment system when I was a very little girl) - but it worked!