CONTRIBUTED BY HEATHER GELORMINE

When a couple has children, “alone time” becomes a precious commodity.  Whether it’s escaping for an hour or two together for dinner without highchairs and a movie with a higher rating than PG, or getting dressed up in dress blues and gowns or tuxedos for a military ball, we cherish those sacred hours of child-free adult time, few and far between though they may be.

But what about the other kind of alone time?  The kind that we manage to scrape up here and there on nights when we’re both home and free of obligations, after the kids have been bathed and put to bed for (hopefully) the next ten to twelve hours?  You know, that kind.  The kind that too often gets interrupted by hungry infants, kids asking for another cup of water, and teens who stay up later than we do.  The kind that got us those kids in the first place.

It’s issues like these that help promote the “Love Hotel” industry.  In Japan, both mainland and here on Okinawa, several generations of families often live under one roof.   It’s highly common for couples to visit Love Hotels in order to get some privacy for themselves when they might not otherwise have easy access to it.  Which means the pay-by-the-hour rooms that you can get here are a far cry from those in the US.  (And far cleaner, too.)

This past week your editors and I took it upon ourselves to debunk the mystery of the Love Hotel.  In an effort to figure out just how they work we visited not just one but four different establishments in an afternoon.  What we found was a little bit of everything: the good, the wacky, the boring, and the ugly.  Mostly we learned that not all Love Hotels are created equal, and you truly do get what you pay for.

The Boring

Our first stop on “Love Hotel Alley” was at the Pirate Ship Hotel.  From the road they’ve got a fancy sign; the exterior is in the shape of a ship (complete with painted-on waves on the surrounding walls).  We pulled our van into one of the covered parking spots, pressed a button near the door to lower the privacy screen from prying outside eyes, and opened a door into a long corridor where painted signs on the floor and wall directed us to climb a staircase to our room.  Once inside we found that the pirate theme was carried through only by the porthole window in the wall; the rest of the room was a neatly decorated, regular hotel room whose only interesting feature was the how-to sensual massage mat in the bathroom.

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Deciding we didn’t want to spend an hour (or the ¥2200 fee) in this rather uninteresting room, we turned right around and headed back down to our car… only to find that we were locked in.  After five minutes of sending in the bravest among us to get us out of this place, she returned and pressed the garage door button… we were free.  “I picked up the phone that called the front desk for me, and told her ‘Cancel room!  No stay, no touch anything.  Sayonara! Cancel!’, and she told me to go,” Tara told us.  ‘Cancel’ became a vital word in this process, we later found out.

The Good

We ended up driving right down the road to Hawaii Hotel, which was a far cry from its neighbor.  For one, this hotel is much more easily accessible for those who have trouble with stairs, as the trip from garage to hotel room was through an outdoor terrace with tables and chairs for each room.

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Inside, the room had Hawaiian music softly playing in the background, His and Hers robes and bath products, a fully stocked mini-bar, and an overall relaxing atmosphere.

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In addition, there was a large screen HDTV with several channels to watch (including one slightly edited adult channel), DVD player and Wii consoles, and a selection of movies and games to borrow.  Unfortunately, the staff at the front desk here didn’t speak English and we never did figure out how to order those movies or games.  Nor did we stay long enough to order from the breakfast or “Afternoon Tea” room service menus available to us.  The biggest downfall with this room was that it smelled strongly of cigarette smoke, which for our group of non-smokers was a bit of a turn off.  In the end we classified this establishment in the category of “classy” Love Hotel.

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The Wacky

Our next stop was Mint House (which several readers have written about on a previous short post with links here).  When we first drove up to the gate we came upon a booth with pictures of the rooms – lighted rooms were vacant; dimmed rooms were occupied – and once we made our (¥4500) selection we pressed a button next to the desired picture.

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We followed signs that led to our chosen room, and when we arrived we parked in the allotted spot and entered the staircase that lead to our suite.  Unfortunately we didn’t understand the sign that read Two People Only, and when we entered the room the phone rang to ask us if we’d like to cancel.  Which we did… but only after taking a few pictures:

This room was two floors, and included a foyer:

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A bedroom area with a karaoke machine

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A hot tub

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And a very fancy shower.

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Other rooms at Mint House were much less fancy – just a few are multi-level – and cost ¥1500 for an hour. While the rooms are not as wildly themed as some of those on mainland Japan, they’re certainly not just your average hotel room.  It seems that Americans frequent Mint House because of its ease of use and the fact that the staff here does speak a bit of English.

The Ugly

We were fully prepared to head home after being turned away from Mint House, but the youngest among us was getting whiny and needed a diaper change, so we pulled into the driveway of Hotel 2001.

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Because the one hour charge here was just ¥1500 we decided to try it out.  In reading over my notes of this room this stands out: “Bed not suitable for sleeping”.  It did have other interesting features, though: a deep tissue massage chair, a bathtub with flat screen TV built into the wall at one end, and a menu offering a selection of adult toys priced at ¥1000 each.  There was also an extensive selection of DVDs (Japanese and adult) and a food room service menu, none of which we took advantage.

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We did have an issue getting out of this room; by the time we contacted an employee to pay (again, buy calling the front desk), it took her about five minutes to reach our room, then another ten to return with our change.  By that time we were feeling very claustrophobic and were more than ready to leave.

What We Learned

Love Hotels are not for weekend getaways.  They’re an easy escape from everyday life, intended for couples who want to make the most of a few precious hours together.  Depending on the hotel and the room, an hour’s stay can range anywhere from ¥1500 to ¥4500.  Some of the hotels we looked at had 2.5 hour options, and nearly all had a ¥500 add-on fee for each additional half hour past the initial sixty minute stay.  Most of the hotels we saw had designated fees for “extended” stays; off-hours (i.e. from 1100 to 1800) cost x amount of Yen, while peak nighttime hours were a couple thousand more.

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The four hotels here operated on a Yen-only basis; even the Mint House with its much pricier rooms did not accept credit cards so bring lots of it with you when you go.

Love_motel_3138 With the exception of the Mint House, the three other rooms we stopped in required us to lower the privacy screen on the garage door before opening the hotel room to us, and that door did not reopen until after we’d paid (or in the case of the pirate hotel, had gotten out of staying).  All four establishments were under 24 hour surveillance with cameras outside the rooms and in the parking bays.

 We never really did figure out the correct protocol for leaving our rooms; mostly we had Tara call the front desk, to which she did a version of “Ready to leave – sayonara! Finish… cancel!”, and afterward a hotel employee came to the small window in the room where only our hands showed; we had no face-to-face contact with anyone other than ourselves.

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Change was made at the window (or in the case of Hotel 2001, took ten minutes to return to us) , and the garage privacy screens were opened.  I think now that had we all gotten directly in the car the employees would have raised the screens for us, to help maintain the same level of privacy that was provided throughout the stay.  We were impatient and a bit panicked, however, and didn’t give ourselves or the employees that chance.

All the rooms we visited smelled strongly of cigarette smoke; I’d advise bringing air freshener spray or candles to help alleviate those odors if you’re sensitive to them.  As a whole, however, it seemed to me that the level of cleanliness and hygiene in all the rooms were up to the standard I’ve come to expect from Japanese establishments.  Despite the nature of the Love Hotels, I didn’t feel as though they were dirty or unclean in the least.

I would recommend bringing drinks and snacks and your own DVDs with you, unless you know how to order from a menu in Japanese.  The hotel employees we encountered spoke little to no English, and we spoke little to no Japanese, which made for a language barrier that was tough to conquer when unable to see the people to whom we were speaking.

In all, visiting these Love Hotels was a fun experience.  If you’re interested in taking a look for yourself – but don’t want to commit to staying in a particular one before seeing it – contact Army Community Services on Torii Station or MCCS on Camp Foster for information about their Love Hotel tours.  Or just take a drive, particularly at night.  Several months ago, Mary posted this travelogue video she and her husband made of “Love Hotel Alley” near Awase Golf Course… this will give you a good idea of what this area looks like all lit up at night.

This is by no means an extensive review of Love Hotels, though.  In trying to keep track of the ones we passed in Love Hotel Alley itself, I lost count at fifteen. There are many other Love Hotels around the island… and they probably fall somewhere in the spectrum between The Good, The Bad, The Boring, and the Ugly.

Directions to Mint House:
From Kadena Gate 2, go straight through the 330 intersection.  At the 6th stoplight (after the ENEOS gas station) take a right.  Follow this street until you pass a golf driving range on your right; on your left you’ll pass Birdland Café; take your first immediate left.  Follow this street for about a kilometer; after a pink and white apartment building on your right you’ll take a very sharp right hand turn into the Mint House entrance.

From Foster: Get on 330 heading east.  Follow to intersection with 20 (Koza Music City; Kadena Gate 2 to your left); take a right. Follow directions as above.

Directions to “Love Hotel Alley”
From Kadena Gate 2, take a right onto 85 toward Chatan.  Follow to intersection of 23 (gate 5); take a left onto 85.  Follow for several kilometers past Camp Butler and through the intersection of 330, past Awase Golf Course.  Street will begin to narrow and get hilly; follow until you get to a small T-intersection with a stop sign.  Take a right; you’ll see many Love Hotels on both sides of the road as you continue on this road.  The Pirate Ship and Hawaii hotels mentioned in this post are accessible from this road.

From Foster, go out the Macaroni Grill gate or the PX gate and head east on 330.  At the Awase Golf Course take a right; follow directions as above.

34 COMMENTS

  1. I am livid right now with the person who posted these directions. They are incorrect and I have just wasted an hour and a half of the time I was supposed to spend with my husband on our date night, trying to find love alley based on what the AWFUL and incorrect directions you posted. Considering he deploys in a week and we now do not gab time left before we must pick up our kids, a big thank you for ruining my night, to the blogger. Appreciate it.

    • These directions are outdated! Awase golf course was where the new hospital and mall are. After you pass the 330 you turn left at the light after the new hospital and then take a right at the following light you will be on the street that narrows and ts.

    • The one by Shields is called Hotel Royal, it is the building you see from the expressway with a huge King Kong bust with glowing eyes on the roof.

    • Type this address into Google Maps: 〒904-2143 Okinawa-ken, Okinawa-shi, Chibana, 5 Chome−38−27 ホテルロイヤル3, Japan. It’s right behind Toma’s Auto Repair.

  2. This was a fantastic article about a somewhat perceived Tabu subject. I have been searching for a location near Camp Kinser, can anyone help? I am also curious if any of these establishments that are not well known have identifying markets (colored light bulbs, certain flags out front) to let potential guests know the type of establishment they are. Thanks for all the great comments and information.

    • From Kadena Gate 2, go straight through the 330 intersection. At the 6th stoplight (after the ENEOS gas station) take a right. Follow this street until you pass a golf driving range on your right; on your left you’ll pass Birdland Café; take your first immediate left. Follow this street for about a kilometer; after a pink and white apartment building on your right you’ll take a very sharp right hand turn into the Mint House entrance.
      Look For THE POCA POC RESTAURANT ON THE LEFT SIDE!!

  3. Mint House is horrible! Dirty as all hell and nasty. Both pools are unserviceable and that was the only thing it had going for it. It looks abandoned. Never go there. Water Hotel is the best so far.

  4. For anyone who’s afraid of spiders, I would steer clear of the Mint House hotel. THe place used to be decent and clean, but recently Ive noticed the rooms aren’t as thoroughly cleaned, there are “traces” of the guests that were there before (ew), and most recently when I went there the lobby was FILLED with daddy long leg spiders and countless egg sacks on the ceiling. I even saw a centipede. When we opened the door to our room the first thing I saw was a spider the size of my hand. My husband killed it, and convinced me that there were no more spiders in the room. However, after my shower I proceeded to put on the robe that was provided and yet another spider comes crawling out onto my neck. needless to say that was the last straw for me, and we left without paying. The few hours we had were wasted. If the Mint House doesn’t intend to renovate AND bug bomb the place soon, its probably best they shut down for good. And it doesn’t look like they’re going to do anything about the bug problem or the fact that the place is falling apart, So seriously, steer clear of that place.

  5. Fairly certain that the yellow bear thingy is a Tanuki. It’s a sort of racoon dog famous in Japanese folkore, it’s usually holding a jug of Sake like this one, and it represents the usual good luck, wealth and fertility. Notice the extremely large testicles, dead giveaway. They can inflate them to any size and use them for various things such as umbrellas, tents etc.

    Studio Gihbli made an animation with these little guys as the main characters, called Pom Poko.

  6. To Anonymous – there are two love hotels just south of Hansen. Go south on 329 toward Ishikawa. Pass through town, MaxValu, etc; after a few minutes, they will be on the right. One is called Hotel Royal – it’s a castle – and there’s another one whose name I don’t recall. The names are in Japanese.

  7. The weird bear is a money bear. It is supposed to bring good luck and fortune. I am excited to stay at one for a while. I was told they are off limits. Good to know!

  8. Do any of the Love Hotels sell sex toys or anything like that for? If not does anyone know of a place that I can purchase adult toys at in Okinawa?

  9. They sell them over in the Tokyo Shoten Bookstore on 23, but if you’re SOFA status, then it is off limits. If you’re not SOFA, then have at it! I forget what it is near, but it is big, blue and yellow, and pretty clearly labelled. If you’re traveling up 23 from 58 then it will be on your right. Otherwise, I think there are people out here who sell toys as their home business, a la Scentsy or Pampered Chef type of arrangement. I just don’t know who they are. Otherwise, there’s always the internet.

  10. Can anyone help me find a love motel room that is non-smoking? I would prefer to be surrounded by nice scents during my visit and not the rank and stale smell of cigarettes. Also, is it true that they are more expensive during the week?

    Much obliged,
    OB

  11. My wife & I stayed at the “Mint Hotel” tonight for 2.5 hours. It was rm 307. It has 2 floors complete with a large jacuzzi pool, big bedroom, big tv with a small number of channels (including 2 porn channels), karaoke on both floors, stereo system, and a nice shower with all kinds of gadgets included. The total came to 5800 yen. That was for 8:00 to 10:30 on a Monday night (weekends have more expensive fees – roughly an additional 1000 yen). It was a great 1st time experience for us, and I highly recommend the Mint House and rm 307 if you want all those ammenities… We’ll definitely be searching out some of the themed hotels in the future.

  12. My husband and I decided that we wanted to check out the love hotels here in Okinawa, so we drove to Love Hotel Alley, but never found anything that we were interested in. We decided to check out the Ry Water Hotel and were impressed with it. It was very clean, although there was a lingering odor of cigarette smoke, and there was a hot tub in the room we chose. We had a great time and it’s a memory we will always look back on with a smile. Keep in mind it definitely isn’t your weekend getaway hotel, but it’s one of those things that every couple should try at least once while on Okinawa!

  13. Just went this weekend to the Ry Water Hotel and LOVED it. We used room 28 which was 6980 yen from 1500-2200. Our favorite part was the spa tub – it was nice and big and we both fit in there comfortably. The room did have the mood lighting and the ocean sounds. Overall, it was just like going to a nice hotel. Next up on our list: one of themed love hotels 😉

  14. Love motels do in fact have week day vs weekend/holiday rates.

    I think that it is great that you ventured out to the love motels but please keep things in mind before going again and for those of you who think this might be a fun thing to do.

    1. Do your research. There are a number of websites out there that give information about love motels including proper etiquette like not having more then two people per room (which is a big one.) Some of them are in Japanese only but can be translated easily.

    2. Learn some phrases. It is always nice when you know some phrases in japanese to help your experience go a bit smoother. Simply things like “how much do I owe you” or even “we are finished now” so that you are being respectful of the people who staffing the motel.

    It is also important to remember one thing as well. A love motel is not a tourist attraction, it is a business. There are pictures of room and information online about rooms so that you know what you are getting into before you go to the motels themselves. I would compare it to a restaurant, would you sit down to a table take a menu and decide you don’t like what you got and leave? Probably not. Don’t forget staff still have to check rooms before you leave (why you were locked in) to ensure everything is orderly and nothing is out of place so it is in proper condition for the next guest.

    I for one love to visit the love motels, they are a getaway that is well worth the money spent and they are all over the island. You might not realize it now but there are hundreds in the area of Kadena/Foster alone. I started to document the hotels that I visit and that can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/exploreoki it’s a great way to learn how to use them as well as get some directions on how to get there.

    Please remember however, we need to make sure we as people using this type of establishment are using it in the proper way and respecting the methods that are supposed to be understood. This is a private experience for people and so it needs to be remembered to be more then respectful of the other people who are using the facility as well as the staff so that we can continue to be welcome at these establishments.

  15. I am Japanese,so please ignore my terrible english grammar.I think,there are some misconception among Americans about love Hotels. Love Hotels are not meant to build for married couple.They are for lovers or married people who have affair with someone. Japanese married couple don’t waste money for sneaky Love Hotels , because they have their own homes.If married couple want to go to a Love Hotel ,Japanese think – very weird. In this VIP list of charge, top is weekday , minimum fee is 4200 Yen for 2.5 hours, additional 30 minutes is 500Yen if you want to stay longer. looking inside many Love Hotels are very different than window-shopping,unless you pay minimum fee,this is required ,not option.

  16. Thanks to all for your comments – we truly appreciate everyone’s feedback!

    To our Japanese commenter, thanks for translating the sign for us! We love to know what Japanese locals think about these kinds of things. Based on everything I’d read about Love Hotels, I was under the impression that they were a more common getaway for romantic couples, married or otherwise. It’s interesting to hear your perspective on that!

    To Love Hotel Stayer, I’m sorry you mistook my attempt at lightheartedness about this topic as ignorant or a joke. When we set off on this adventure – which for us WAS a tourism draw – we had done some initial background reading about Love Hotels, but we were trying to approach the visiting of them from the perspective of people who had never been to one before. We treated it as a learning experience for ourselves to help make it a little less awkward for our readers who have also been wondering how they work.

    You’re completely right about needing to learn some appropriate Japanese phrases to make interacting with the hotel staff easier for both parties. When speaking to the staff, we did use as many phrases as we knew (contrary to what I described in my post), and we were respectful of the staff and the rooms, though we may not have known the exact procedures for getting in and out of them.

    Thanks for the link to your YouTube videos; if you have any other links to helpful websites about Love Hotels that our readers could use to learn more, we’d love to have you share them. I can certainly say now, though, that reading about a visit to a Love Hotel isn’t the same as seeing one in person… I had a lot of fun visiting these different establishments in the name of “research”, and am hoping to find a little time to bring my husband with me next time.

    There are also several helpful comments to this post on our Facebook Fan Page: http://www.facebook.com/OkinawaHai Check them out!

  17. I think all the rooms we visited also had weekday versus weekend rates. On the VIP Room price list pix above the top prices are weekday… weekend are the second set of prices.

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