Hotels that emphasize shagging over slumber get a bad rap in the States. Think about it: a dusty gyrating bed, a coin-operated TV chained to the floor, broadcasting 217 flickery channels of porn—plus Animal Planet for the truly deviant. Photographer Misty Keasler (interviewed here in the Morning News) offers a radically different perspective in her series Love Hotels: The Hidden Fantasy Rooms of Japan and the same-named monograph, exposing the West to sanctuaries equal parts shockingly subversive and substantially sexy. In sum: Hello Kitty S&M Room.
As a frequent traveler to Tokyo—and connoisseur of its nightlife—you better believe I know a thing or three about love hotels. Before I file a “Raw Nippon” post on where to get your jollies (or just where to bathe in a couple-sized martini glass), I gotta clarify something. The following list, a cross-section of pop culture, shows that love hotels are more than just destinations for debaucherous denizens (though there's plenty of that).
William Gibson, Idoru
The cyberpunk scribe's 1996 novel, weighing a crystalline Far East against a murky, sodden London, was my gateway to love hotels. Their dual nature—intimacy and isolation—is spelled out in an exchange between young protagonist Chia and her geekish ally Masahiko:
“Private rooms. For sex. Pay by the hour.”
“Oh,” Chia said, as though that explained everything... “Have you been to one of these before?” she asked, and felt herself blush. She hadn't meant it that way.
“No,” he said... “But people who come here sometimes wish to port. There is a reposting service that makes it very hard to trace. Also for phoning, very secure.”
Haruki Murakami, after dark
This taut little 2004 read occurs totally at night, featuring a love hotel as a major plot element: the scene of a violent crime and a retreat for protagonist Mari. As Hotel Alphaville owner Kaoru explains to her, “it's a little sad to spend a night alone in a love ho, but it's great for sleeping. Beds are one thing we've got plenty of.” Nightly rates at love hotels are typically less than those of business hotels, if you're shrewd.
Laurel Nakadate, Love Hotel and Other Stories
Nakadate's career survey Only the Lonely at MoMA PS1 last year included her 2005 single-channel video Love Hotel, featuring the artist slow-grinding on gaudy beds throughout Japan. Though we can imagine the camera as the observer's seeking gaze, simultaneously it is solely Nakadate, awaiting a partner never to appear. “It's about loneliness,” she explained. “About being by yourself in a place where you're supposed to be in love.”
Two glossy photography books, the former from '94 and the latter over a decade later, celebrate love hotel patrons as much as the kaleidoscopic environs themselves. In Tokyo Love, Araki, the mad lensman of Japanese eroticism (see Tokyo Lucky Hole) and post-punk documentarian Goldin teamed up to capture indiscriminately youths in love. For HAL (his nom de photo), a mainstay of Golden Gai, Pinky & Killer DX was a close-cropped and super-saturated exposé on Tokyo's lusty after-hours lot. Funny thing is, each time I visit Tokyo I meet several more subjects from HAL's lens.