Love hotel operators lose some loopholes
Several years ago, according to Sankei Shimbun, a group of children on their way to elementary school in Osaka’s Nishi Ward reported to their teachers that they saw a naked man waving from the window of a building which bordered on school property. The school reported the incident to police who investigated and found that the building was actually a love hotel, though it didn’t necessarily look like one.
As a cultural fixture, love hotels supposedly fill a need for sexual privacy that many couples can’t secure in crowded, cluttered Japan, and with a specific commercialized service. All the special features of love hotels are designed either for discretion or for enhancing the implied sexual interlude, no matter how brief. It is because love hotels offer such a service that they fall under legal guidelines that differ from those for other commercial accommodations and which apply to the fuzoku eigyo-ho (law for businesses that affect public morals) that went into effect in 1985. According to this law, love hotels cannot be operated within 200 meters of school property, and Sankei says that the building in Nishi Ward has been the source of other complaints: cars emerging suddenly out of the curtained parking lot and fliers for sex services littering the area where kids can pick them up.
This particular business is what is called a giso (fake) love hotel, meaning that it looks like a regular hotel but operates as a love hotel. Regular hotels do not fall under the fuzoku eigyo-ho, even if couples use them for sexual trysts. So how does one distinguish a love hotel from a city or business hotel, or even a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn)? Apparently, it all has to do with structure and features. According to the fuzoku eigyo-ho, if a hotel has no kitchen and no lobby; or if its operators install vending machines selling “adult goods” and its guest rooms have features such as glass-partitioned bathrooms, rotating beds and ceiling mirrors, they qualify as love hotels. However, according to a non-profit organization called Zenkoku Giso Rabu Hoteru Nakasu Kai (The Group to Remove Fake Love Hotels Nationwide), fake love hotels have taken advantage of the wording of the law, which implies that businesses must have both special structures and special features. If either doesn’t apply, it doesn’t meet the legal criteria for a love hotel. When operators build their hotels, they include lobbies and kitchens so that they can qualify for registration as a regular inn or hotel under the ryokan gyo-ho (commercial inn law), and then after they receive certification they remodel the place with the usual love hotel fixtures, though usually only with regard to the interior so as not to attract too much attention from neighbors. Several years ago the National Police Agency said it identified about 3,600 fake love hotels operating throughout the country. The real number is undoubtedly higher.
What really distinguishes a love hotel is its fee schedule. Regular hotels charge by the night, while love hotels charge for “rests” that can last as little as an hour or two. This system is appealing to guests who only want to use the place for a brief bit of whoopie, and profitable for the hotel because it guarantees higher turnover. However, it’s another aspect of the loophole that mainly bothers the NPO. The commercial inn law that regulates regular hotels allows guests under the age of 18 to occupy and pay for accommodations.
Now, the police have more legal means to crack down on fake love hotels. On Jan. 1, revisions to the fuzoku eigyo-ho went into effect. According to the revisions, a love hotel is defined as having 1) signs indicating that rooms are available for stays of less than 24 hours, 2) no foyer, or no foyer that is not blocked from view, and 3) no interaction between guests and hotel staff, a criterion that addresses one feature common to almost all love hotels, which is payment for rooms through vending machines often located in the rooms themselves (i.e., one cannot unlock the door and leave the room until it’s paid for).
Though there are still some loopholes here — does the sign have to be on the building’s exterior? — the NPO is confident that the new revisions will lead to raids on many fake love hotels located in sensitive locations, such as the one in Nishi Ward, especially since the new law is retroactive. In fact, it’s already had an effect. The police say that of the 580 fake love hotels they identified in Tokyo as of July of last year, 75, or 13 percent, have already re-registered as bona fide love hotels.