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.