I just started reading this book by Sarah Chaplin on the ‘love’ hotels in Japan, an aspect of contemporary Japanese culture often downplayed and underestimated by western tourists (“they’re just modern and fancy brothels” – a classic reaction I don’t deny having had myself). Love hotels are instead a fantastically rich anthropological phenomenon, where the fascinating mix of modern and antique which is nowadays Japan gets represented in all of its levels. Here is an excerpt from the first chapter:
It’s Sunday morning, 10:43am, and you don’t have any particular plan for the day. So here is my tip: Get yourself a folding chair, place yourself comfortably across from the entrance of one of Japan’s 30,000 love hotels, and just watch. Apart from a few surprises, your private programme should include the following: an old man accompanied by a 15-year-old girl in school uniform rushing into the hotel to make use of the reasonable 2-hour ‘rest’ rate; a middle-aged couple from outside Tokyo parking their car in the parking lot, then running the five metres to the entrance, hiding their faces like criminals; a teenage couple entering the place as if it were a McDonald’s; and, as an encore, a newly-arrived foreign woman in her forties with her luggage walks happily in, only to come out confused and ashamed three minutes later. So just by sitting around you have a perfect overview of Japanese culture right at its most interesting point.
The love hotel is characterised as a barometer of social and cultural change in Japan’s long post- war period, mirroring economic and psychological fluctuations, while challeng- ing behavioural norms and domestic identities.
Sarah Chaplin is an architect and cultural theorist, so her study focuses on aspects such as the love hotels’ urban context, their architectural form, their richly wrought interiors, their names and thematic contents, and their emerging status as a cultural industry. However throughout the book there are lots of reflections which are of interest also to non academic and non expert readers, especially the ones who’re intrigued and eager to get under the skin of japanese culture.