David Notkin's and Cathy Tuttle's "Japan Stories" (1990-91)

4 July 1990, Japan Stories #4: Cathy and David go to a Love Hotel

Last Friday I went to Yokohama Stadium to buy tickets for a Yomiuri Giants vs. Taiyo Whales game held on July 20th. The line was two hours long. And there was a separate line for the game on the 21st. I got the cheapest seats in the stadium (2700 yen, about $18), because nothing else was available. I'm going to the game with Matusmoto-san and her parents: I bought the tickets, they'll bring the food.

I just noticed that on the outside of the door to the men's room on the 3rd floor of my office building is a little sticker showing Donald Duck peeing into the hole on a golf green. It made me feel like I was at home in the US, since it looks like something Lazowska would have around.

Cathy recently noticed that every tree on campus is numbered. Big trees, small trees, even ugly, untrimmed palm trees. Why? Beats us.

Cathy also saw a lady cleaning up doggie-poop using, and this is the truth, chopsticks. Plopped it right in a plastic bag and she and the little dog went on their merry way.

The Emperor's and Empress's second son got married on Friday to a commoner. It turns out that June 29th is supposed to be a lucky day, and most corporations have their shareholder meetings that day. But this year they mostly met on Thursday the 28th (a traditionally unlucky day), since the police asked them to change the date because of the prince's wedding.

The wedding is big news here. The paper had some interesting tidbits today. There were about 10 paragraphs on how the prince and princess met at the university book store, at a meeting apparently arranged by the store's manager. The princess's wedding gown was a 12-layer kimono that weighed over 20 pounds. Apparently kimono like this rent for somewhere between $700 and $7000 a day; of course, they probably bought hers. They have a modest house on the Imperial grounds, with about seven secretaries, chauffers, etc. In their study are two small desks, side-by-side, each with a personal computer (his is new, hers is one that she had at home with her parents). They have a big garden, where they just installed a new pond for his catfish (which is his research interest). According to tradition, the Emperor and Empress didn't attend the wedding ceremony itself. The ceremony was a Shinto rite, as are most of the "happy" occasions, while the "sad" occasions tend to be Buddist ceremonies.

One of the two official photographers is in serious hot-water for taking a candid picture of the prince and princess. Although the picture is really great --- she was pushing the prince's hair out of his eyes --- it's the first non-posed, non-full-face-forward picture of anyone from the Imperial family in over 30 years.

Being handicapped in Japan would be overwhelming. We've seen a couple of things intended to help out blind folks. In one or two subway or train stations, the ticket machines have prices (I guess) in Braille. And in Yokohama, blind people are also aided by music that is played when the stop lights turn color --- in fact, one of the common tunes is "Coming Through the Rye" (honestly). But it was only this week that I actually saw a blind person. Last week we finally saw two people in wheelchairs, too --- getting around Tokyo in a wheelchair is simply too much to imagine.

We went to dinner last week at the house of an American family who are here for six years (the man works for Boeing). Both Cathy and I were too chicken to actually try it, but there was a "paperless" toilet that washes and dries your butt automatically. Luckily for us cowards, it also had a flush handle for P.O.T.S. (Plain Old Toilet Service).

But the big excitement this week was our second anniversary. We went to dinner at a nice soba place in nearby Meguro. It was the first place we've eaten at that didn't have plastic food outside. (We could only do this because we read about it in a book. Otherwise we wouldn't have had a clue that it was even a restaurant.)

After dinner we checked out one of the local "love hotels." Remember that Japan, especially Tokyo, doesn't have a lot of space for people to live in. And that means there's not much privacy. And that means it's hard for couples to find a place to, umm, er, have some peace and quiet. So, they have love hotels. Lots of them, apparently. Well, we read about one in nearby Meguro that is supposed to be the "king" of local love hotels. You might think these things are hidden off in dark corners, and some may be (for instance, there's one just behind the Guest house where we live, so people say), but this is a brightly lit castle (yup, castle) about a block off the main drag.

The sign outside gives some prices, with separate costs for "rest" (two hours) and "stay" (overnight). There's even a nice little sign in English telling you to ask the receptionist on the 2nd floor if you have any questions. You get inside, and the lobby is small but slick. It even has a fancy player piano tinkling away. Then there is this big board with about three dozen rooms (all with French names) listed, with little buttons next to them. There is also a machine right next to it that is where you deposit your money. It's a bit hard to figure out most of this stuff, although it's clear that there are three or four types of rooms, ranging from a measly three-stars to (I kid you not) three-room "sweets."

So we go upstairs to the receptionist, a grandmotherly type who is glad to help, but speaks no English at all. She takes us to another identical set of the machines that were (discretely) downstairs. Between Cathy's Japanese and some guessing, we figure out that the rooms with the lit buttons are the ones that are available. If you push one of these, the money machine lights up the cost; you select a button on that machine for "rest" or "stay." Then you put your money in and a card that is your room key is returned. Cathy found out that all the rooms were identical, except in size. (Some of the love hotels apparently have exotic rooms with all kinds of weird displays, toys beds, mirrors, etc.) There were only four or five rooms available out of about three dozen (this was about 9PM on a Tuesday night). We picked a "rest" in a 4-star room (the cheapest one left). It cost 8500 yen, nearly $60.

The room itself was on the surface like a regular hotel room. For instance, there was a toilet (complete with the usual toilet slippers), a bath (with a Jacuzzi) and a shower, a mini-bar and an associated microwave, a TV, etc. But there were some more unusual features, too, including an electric timer at the door telling you how long you've been there, brochures to sign up for discount cards for all love hotels in this chain (I guess its like a frequent flyer program), a two-person sauna, two "Meguro Prince" condoms, and a huge control panel on the bedboard that was probably taken right from the 747-400.

The music controls let you not only pick a station (*lot's* of American tunes, including rock and jazz) and the volume, but you could connect the reverb to vibrate the bed. The sound and the reverb controls were separate, so you shake the bed without breaking your eardrums (or vice versa). The TV controls not only turned on the (big screen) TV, but also had a 3-inch screen so you could watch TV while staring at the bedboard. One of the channels was Japanese porn, which is an experience in and of itself, because it's illegal to show pubic hair (and the associated genitals, presumably). So what they do is put an electronically generated cross-hatch over the pubic areas, and follow them up-and-down and all-around. On close-ups, nearly the entire screen is covered with this cross-hatch. On another channel you could watch Paul Neuman (who's a big star here --- I bought some of his spaghetti sauce the other day, and it was labeled "Fresh Since February") in the "Color of Money."

There were also two microphones in the room. There was also a chart of songs, so we're pretty sure the mikes were for karaoke ("empty orchestra", where you get to sing to songs played in the background). We couldn't figure this out, but the mikes worked anyway. (Oh yeah, you could set up the music and TV to be heard in the sauna, toilet, and bath/shower room.)

After having passed up the chance to try to automatic toilet the previous week, we couldn't miss this opportunity. This thing in fact has two separate squirters, perhaps one for the front and one for the back. I figured out that you could even adjust where they aim. There is a dryer, too. There was a digital clock on the other side, with some other controls, but I couldn't figure those out.

Check-out is also discrete. We just walked out. There were only one or two available rooms when we left, and we saw three or four couples walking in as we left. What a business! What a couple of hours! What a country! What an anniversary!