Archive for the ‘Love Hotel’ Category

One way to find abandoned places is to keep your eyes open and to check out locations that look suspicious – so when my friend Rory saw a dodgy looking sign from the highway, we took the next exit to check out the area behind the rusty metal construction…

Ten years ago we probably wouldn’t have found a way to the place Rory saw, but thanks to modern technology it was rather easy to navigate some small back roads to what turned out to be an abandoned love hotel under demolition. The entrance of property was blocked by heavy machinery, probably to prevent metal thieves from driving right in and loading their trucks. To the right was a regular countryside house, western style – further down the road we saw the actual hotel, already ripped half apart.
Exploring the Japanese home felt kinda strange – the (previous?) owners took most of their belongings, but there were some pieces of furniture and some electronics left behind, plus a couple of random items, like omamori; Japanese charms usually sold at shrines during hatsumode, the first shrine visit of the year (which is also used to dispose of old omamori to avoid bad luck – you see the genius business model!). Overall the house wasn’t in bad condition, so it was kind of a waste to get rid of it, but I guess that’s the way the cookie crumbles sometimes…
The far more interesting part was the hotel down the driveway. It had the typical love motel layout with garages on the ground floor and small staircases leading up to the rooms, but a box of matches labelled it as a “car hotel inn” named Regent Hotel – obviously not part of the famous Regent International Hotels chain of luxury accommodations. Although the place once had been a solid ferroconcrete structure, the ongoing demolition made parts of it rather sketchy. Nevertheless we had a closer look to find out what it really was. Thanks to a calendar in the family home we knew that it was most likely abandoned in 2008, six years prior to our visit, and a look at some of the remaining doors proved that it had been a love hotel indeed – the room rates were still written on them. Other than that not much left behind. A gutted and rather disgusting kitchen, a bed frame here and there, one bathtub in a bathroom and trash in the yard; both piled and scattered. There we found more indicators for our love hotel theory, but you gotta see for yourself in the gallery.

Exploring this half-demolished love hotel surely wasn’t a highlight in my urbex career, but it was nevertheless an interesting experience as it literally and figuratively gave us some insight into this strangely fascinating world – and it was a neat addition to regular love hotel explorations, like the one in *Furuichi*. It also was a good start into this urbex day as later on we explored the famous *White School* and the amazing *Japanese Art School*; two legendary locations and true classics in the Japanese urbex world.

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How does a quite dull hotel exploration turn into a pretty memorable story? Add some yakuza!

I often forget where or how I found a location as I do a lot of internet research, basically almost every day, but this one I remember vividly. It was on a regular Japanese blog about everyday life, not one specifically dedicated to urbex. The guy who wrote it did some other explorations, but this apparently abandoned love hotel piqued my interest as I had never seen it before anywhere else before. And he did a lousy job disguising the location as he called the article by the place’s real name, only replacing one syllable with a placeholder – and in the article he mentioned the prefecture it was in. Since the hotel looked recently abandoned I just googled it and within 5 seconds had the exact address, because of course it was still listed on dedicated Japanese websites about (active) love hotels. (I might or might not have labelled one of the photos with the real name… but I won’t mention the prefecture!)

A couple of weeks later the opportunity arose to finally visit this abandoned love hotel in excellent condition. My expectations were pretty high – my source didn’t show many photos, but they were extremely promising. Arriving at the hotel finding access was surprisingly easy as a back door underneath the hotel, right next to the parking lot, was unlocked… which was quite unusual for a love hotel. Not that the door was unlocked, but that there was a rather big shared parking lot. Usually those hotels have individual parking booths, so guests can enter and exit without being seen by others. Anyway, we entered and started to have a look around… and were soon quite disappointed. Not only the parking lot looked like those at regular hotel, so did the rooms. No exotic interior design elements, not even outdated 70s or 80s porn atmosphere. Just regular rooms with pamphlets insisting that the hotel was indeed a love hotel – by presenting the typical room rates (making the usual difference between “rest” and “stay”) and advertising the sale of cheap sexy outfits. When we finally made it to the front desk, it looked a bit converted, like everything else there. Yep, this most likely had been a regular hotel originally, converted into a love hotel years ago. At the time of our visit the original bar and restaurant were used as one big storage room… It was then when one of my friends left the hotel to have a look outside and the other two (American guy, Japanese girl) went back upstairs to check something out. I stayed behind and took photos at the bar area. After a while I started to hear voices, which is quite unusual as we usually explore rather quietly. I couldn’t understand what was said and I remember thinking that I would have to ask my friends to speak English at abandoned places, so it would be clear instantly if they were talking – or some other visitors. (Running into other people at abandoned places in Japan is rather unlikely, running into other English speakers is virtually impossible.) As the voices came closer I realized that only male voices were speaking… only Japanese. So those people were definitely not my friends. Darn! Since they were coming from the part of the building where we entered, they basically cut off my way out. As the voices came closer I saw the first lights from their flashlights, so I hid in an alcove next to a door frame. But they came closer and closer and at one point I had no choice but to leave my improvised hiding place, still hoping that they would be fellow explorers. I turned right and… saw a group of about half a dozen Japanese guys in suits, definitely not urban explorers. My camera still mounted on the tripod I mumbled a quick “konnichwa”, one of the younger guys replied with a surprised “konnichwa” and I headed with quick steps past the group through the door into the rather dark hallway that lead to the other side of the building and towards the exit through a semi-basement. I heard footsteps of one or two people following me into the hallway, but they stayed behind and didn’t say anything while I accelerated my steps, my heart beating like crazy up to my throat.
Right outside the door I met my friends. They had been able to leave without being seen, but also without being able to warn me. I think it was my Japanese female friend who instantly said “They looked like yakuza!” – and my impression was the same, just by the way they looked and the way they talked. We left the premises as quickly as possible, and when we reached the road again, we saw a HUGE black Japanese limousine with tainted windows. The kind of car that costs more than a small house in the countryside, definitely nothing like the tiny ones usually used by real estate agents. The license plate had the number 88-00, which apparently symbolized luck if you are a supersticious kind of person. The car basically screamed “If you mess with me or one of my passengers, WE will MESS YOU UP!!!” – whatever was going on there, it definitely wasn’t a normal sales pitch by a regular realtor. They didn’t even use the friggin main entrance, but came through an unlocked back door in the semi-basement!
All four of us were pretty rattled by those events. Like I said, usually you don’t run into people at abandoned places in Japan, especially not half a dozen guys wearing black suits entering through a back door after arriving in a car that cost something like six-figures USD. For the first time in a very long time we took a real lunch break on an exploration day (instead of the usual sandwich / onigiri in the car), just so we could sit down and relax for like an hour. And then we did what you have to do after being thrown off a horse – we got right back in saddle and continued to explore.
Oh, before I forget: No video tour this week for obvious reasons… 🙂

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The abandoned Love Hotel London was one of the most pitiful places I have ever explored and borderline worthy to become a part of the soon to come “Worst of Japan 2014” article (scheduled for December 30th!) – but it’s one of the most famous rotting places in all of central Japan; probably because of the name…

Despite being called London, this deserted and dilapidated love hotel apparently had nothing to do with Great Britain’s capital. It looked like a cheap, fake castle and the rooms had the usual array of themed rooms from all over the world. Like most love hotels in Japan, the London was actually more of a motel. You parked your car in some kind of garage on the ground floor and then went upstairs to… well, do what people usually do at no-tell motels.
In its heyday the London, conveniently located next to the Hamamatsu Air Base in central Japan, must have been quite a site – now there is not much left to see. Some furniture pieces outside, some vandalized, rotting rooms inside. Pretty much everything was busted open, all windows smashed, everything beyond repair.
If you ever wanted to know more about the love hotel industry in Japan I recommend *this old article*… and I also wrote about *my two cents on relationships in Japan* – both articles come with photos from other abandoned love hotels in better condition…

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Merry XXX-Mas everyone!

The Love Hotel tinna is one of those locations that are giving me a headache. On the one hand I am happy about every exploration, on the other hand… this was barely an exploration and I have hardly enough material for an article. About 20 months ago I was walking along a countryside road on the way to an abandoned place I was looking forward to explore, when I came across the tinna Love Hotel by chance. Not sure how the rest of the day would turn out I passed without a closer look, but considered having one on the way back. If it wouldn’t have been for the ropes blocking off the car entrance I probably wouldn’t have even realized that the place was abandoned or at least closed.

Two hours later I was on my way back to the train station – and since I wasn’t in a hurry I indeed had a closer look. Entering the premises and getting out of sight was quick and easy, the ropes were more or less symbolic. Luckily the sensors at the entrance must have been for triggering lights back in the days, because they surely didn’t cause an alarm to go off.
The back of the love hotel looked a little more abandoned, but just barely. Each room came with a separate garage – you drove in and shut the plastic curtain to get your car some privacy. The room rates (rest / stay) were written at signs next to the doors – which were all locked. That fact makes this article even duller, especially since I don’t know anything about the history of the Love Hotel tinna. I guess it was abandoned just weeks or a few months prior to my visit, but it’s hard to tell for sure. On the other hand: a lot of westerners don’t know much about love hotel, so here you can finally see some exterior shots. For interior shots you might want to have a look at the two articles about love hotels I published in 2011 and 2012. The one about the *Love Hotel Gion* is all about love hotels in general and how big the business is (a whopping 50 billion $-US!), the one about the *Furuichi Love Hotel* is more about dating in Japan and why some Japanese women were once called “Leftover Christmas Cake”…

And that’s it for this week – Merry XXX-Mas!

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When Conan was asked “What is best in life?” he answered “To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women.” – I’m pretty sure if the Mongol general would have asked him “What is worst in life?” Conan would have answered “To marry a Japanese woman, see her taking your paycheck, and to hear the lamentation about setting the AC to a ‘freezing’ 28° C in the middle of summer.”

Please forgive this provocative generalization of an introduction, but whenever I stumble across an abandoned love hotel I can’t help but be reminded of how different Japan is in so many ways to my home country Germany. Especially in the relationship department. What I wrote so far and will write in the lines to come is not an analysis of the Japanese society or even just its love life – I’m just describing what I see and hear as an expat living in Japan, which is quite different from the things one sees and hears as a tourist visiting Japan. After six years in Japan I tend to compare this country to a big amusement park – it’s shiny, it’s tidy, it’s expensive and everybody seems to be nice. But visiting an amusement park and working in an amusement park are two completely different things…

Last time I visited an abandoned love Hotel (*Love Hotel Gion*) I wrote about the love hotel industry in Japan in general – this time I will rant a little bit about relationships in Japan. Back home in Germany, when you talk about your girlfriend or wife, you are usually in the range of being honest to being more positive than it actually is; unless you have a beer with your best buddy, then it might turn into a bitchfest. Not so in Japan! The vast majority of people married to a Japanese woman, no matter if they are foreigners or Japanese, bitch openly about their significant others to everybody – constantly! For every happily married couple I can name two or three where the guy calls his wife “The Dictator” or at least doesn’t feel that it is a waste of time to feed his new-born kid after being pressured into having children… It’s depressing sometimes. (Maybe I should add that I never did any of the above and find Japanese women rather sweet and caring… but I was never married to one.)
While pretty much every woman’s biological clock starts to tick at a certain age that certain age is definitely lower in Japan. The big 3-0 seems to be the current number where cute, open-minded girls turn into little monsters obsessed with marriage – if you meet a woman past 35 you better look for rings right away and get prepared to father a child or two. But that actually is progress in comparison to a derogatory term popular for decades in Japan: Leftover Christmas Cake. Leftover Christmas Cake was a not so flattering way to call an unmarried Japanese woman over the age 25. In Japan Christmas is kind of an additional Valentine’s Day you spend with your significant other eating a beautiful, but extremely overpriced cake – and Leftover Christmas Cake is something nobody wants… Since the ticking deadline is now 30 instead of 25 the term isn’t as popular anymore and you can always see the surprise or even shock on a Japanese person’s face when you mention it.

But even if you get married before the age of 30 it seems like people just follow set behaviors, no matter if they make sense or not; like hardly anybody goes swimming in the ocean after September 1st because according to Japanese definition it’s autumn now – it doesn’t matter that it’s still 32° C outside, you don’t go swimming in autumn since it’s a summer thing to do. And it’s the same with married Japanese women. They quit their jobs, they dress differently, they behave differently. Again: Not all of them, but a lot. A couple of years ago a Japanese friend of mine, a cute girl in her mid 20s, wrote me something along these lines: “I know it’s a horrible thing to say, but I don’t want to work anymore. Maybe I should get married…” – I’m not making this up! In Japan the women have control over the money. No matter how much the husband makes or how high he is on the career ladder: The woman gets the paycheck and the husband gets some pocket money. And if he needs more he has to ask his wife – if he’s lucky enough to have access to a bank account he better remembers when and why he used the ATM, because it’s highly likely that he will have the justify the use of that card. One of the reasons guys married to Japanese women tend to bitch about their wives…

Wives that they sometimes barely know. While arranged marriages are not common in Japan it is not exactly unusual that parents introduce their daughters to suitable candidates – especially when their daughters have passed the devilish age of 30. Traditionally men and women are not platonic friends with each other – and if a couple isn’t working at the same company it’s not really rare that they see each other only once or twice a week, because they are both super busy at work; especially the guys. And that’s another big difference to what I’m used to – unless you are having a long distance relationship you see (and get to know) your significant other on 5, 6, 7 days a week where I come from; way more often than in Japan. With the result that a lot of men (including foreigners) are marrying Japanese women they don’t know nearly as much about as if they would have been in a relationship with a woman in a western country for the same amount of time. On the other hand that fact makes it easier to stay at work till 9, 10 or 11 p.m. every night… Who wants to go home to a wife and kids they barely know…?
For a lot of Japanese men it almost seems to be a hassle to have a relationship after all – the so-called Herbivore Men (草食(系)男子, sōshoku(-kei) danshi) are described as having an “indifferent attitude towards desire of flesh”. Whenever you think you’ve heard it all…

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are many, many, many happy (happy!) marriages in Japan, but when I listen to co-workers and friends hardly anybody seems to be really happy in their marriage – and a lot of them cheat on their wives.

And that finally brings us to the exploration of the Furuichi Love Hotel in Hyogo prefecture – an original find I’ve never seen anywhere else before, including Japanese haikyo blogs! Like the *Love Hotel Gion* the Furuichi Love Hotel was more like a motel. You drove into a garage (this one even had closable doors!) and entered a small apartment from there – on the right side was a Japanese style toilet, on the left side a bathroom, straight ahead the fun room with the king size bed and all the other extras. Like the Love Hotel Gion the Furuichi Love Hotel was in pretty bad shape. Most garages were locked and the dozen rooms were accessible via a two small hallways in abysmal state – some vandals used a pickaxe for some remodeling. They did surprisingly little damage to most of the rooms, so I was able to take photos in three of them. Sadly the light from the hallway wasn’t enough to see anything there, so I had to use my flashlight again to bring some light to those abandoned love caves.

The rest of the area was in a state of destruction, too. Right at the entrance was a small house for the manager of the hotel, the interior covered by some smelly pink powder – most likely somebody emptied a fire extinguisher there. The backyard was turned into a junkyard, but if you are looking for a Japanese style toilet you might find an undamaged one there. Glass shards and pieces of porcelain were all over the place, but what really caught my eyes was a sex toy with a cable remote hanging in one of the trees – Merry XXX-Mas everybody!

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What do you do when you get thrown off your horse? You get right back on! And that’s what Sebastian and I did after we ran into some trouble at the *Cambrai-Fritsch-Kaserne*. Since Sebastian came up with the (almost) deserted US Army base it was my turn to select a place to explore – and I chose the Clubhotel Messel a.k.a. Clubhotel Sehr / Clubhotel Seher.

At the time of my visit the place was virtually unknown to the internet. It was obvious that plenty of vandals, arsonists and paintball players were there before me, but it was almost impossible to find any hard information about the place on the net – luckily that change earlier this year when the German urbex community, usually more interested in photos than the historical background of abandoned places, took care of that situation.

It seems like the Clubhotel Messel (named after the municipality of Messel near Darmstadt, usually known for the UNESCO World Heritage site Messel Pit where all kinds of fossils were found) was not only a single hotel, but a conglomerate of businesses, all part of the frivolous nightlife industry. The nightclub “Broadway-Bar” and the hotel “Je t’aime” were right next to the “Swimming Pool / Sauna Club d’Amour” and the “Nightclub d’Amour” – basically one big brothel complex, one of the biggest in the Rhine-Main area. Since all establishments were owned by a guy named Wolfgang Sehr the place was also called Clubhotel Sehr or, misspelled, Clubhotel Seher. The special attraction of the Clubhotel was a mini zoo including a pair of cheetahs – the cages are still in the forest! I’m not exactly sure when the place opened, but I guess it grew kind of organically and was in full bloom in the late 70s and throughout the 80s. In January of 1988 it was mentioned by leading news magazine Der Spiegel in an article about a scandal regarding nuclear waste. A company called Transnuklear Hanau (a subsidiary of Nukem – I’m not joking!) illegally imported 1942 barrels of nuclear waste from Belgium and of course there were bribery and other manipulations / irregularities involved – one of them was a bill to the amount of 14010 Mark (roughly 7000 Euros) after some managers of the nuclear industry had a fun night at the Clubhotel. (The article mentioned a nightclub called “Mon Bijou” and a fine dining restaurant named “La Chandelle“ – probably both part of the Clubhotel complex.

The Spiegel report was the beginning of the end of the Clubhotel, although the details are vague since everything happened before the age of the internet. It seems like the German State wasn’t very fond of the local sex businesses and started to shut them down one after another – either in the late 80s or early 90s. Some of the brothel owners went to jail for procurement and promotion of prostitution; and according to an article by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) in late 1994 Sehr was convicted of those crimes…

When the brothel complex was abandoned but still in good condition the Zeitung für Darmstadt (Newspaper for Darmstadt) reported in 1993 that the State of Hesse had plans to reconvert the place into a *deportation prison* for 250 illegal aliens. These considerations were terminated abruptly when parts of the club hotel complex burned down to the ground on January 25th of 1994 as the Zeitung für Darmstadt reported in early 1994. It seems like the then owner, most likely still Sehr, tried to commit insurance fraud to make up for the millions he lost when the place was shut down. (The guy definitely went to jail – I’m just not sure if it was for one or both of the alleged crimes.)

Later in the 90s the Clubhotel made the news when paintball players occupied the premises and actually started to do minor construction work. The rural district Darmstadt-Dieburg intervened and a court of law decided that the “Magic Boys Rhein Main” needed to find another location for their colorful war games… (The small building next to the big outdoor pool was their safe house and Gotcha related graffiti are still all over the place.)

For more than a decade all kinds of people came to the Clubhotel for all kinds of reasons. Some people played paintball, others airsoft. Some homeless people looked for shelter in one of the smaller buildings that weren’t affected by arson and of course photographers came to… well, do what photographers do. It seems like for a while artists lived on the premises and in summer of 2011 Sebastian and I had a quick look. Only to find a rather uninteresting burned out hotel and some vandalized smaller buildings. In the early 80s the Clubhotel must have been quite a sight – nowadays it’s just another unspectacular rotting place in the woods. Luckily it has a story worth telling. But maybe this patch of land in the middle of nowhere will find new beauty and glory soon. On March 26th of 2012 a public auction of the property by court order took place and on May 13th Echo-Online reported that the (new?) owner of the site is looking at plans to build a new hotel – probably for the whole family this time, not only for dads…

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Love hotels always fascinated me. From the first time I heard about them and even more so after the first time I visited one. So of course an abandoned love hotel was always quite high on my “Places I want to go to” list, but while Kanto is swamped with that type of haikyo there seem to be barely any in Kansai. It took me more than a year to find the love hotel Gion, and technically I guess it’s more like a love motel…
Since I guess not everybody reading this blog is familiar with that kind of “popular Japanese subculture”. So, what is a love hotel? First of all – the love hotel industry is not a subculture at all, it’s one of the biggest money makers in Japan! A love hotel (also known as fashion hotel, amusement hotel, boutique hotel, couples hotel, romance hotel or leisure hotel) is a hotel where you can get rooms not only for a whole night, but also by the hour. They originated in the Edo period in Edo (nowadays Tokyo) and Kyoto, the then-capital – appearing to be tea rooms or normal inns, used by both prostitutes and normal couples. When prostitution was abolished in 1958 love hotels (then known as “bring-along inns”) started to boom – litte known fact: Even Nintendo ran a love hotel in 1963, just about 10 years before they started entering and revolutionizing the video games industry. The modern term “love hotel” derives from the “Hotel Love”, which was built in 1968 and attracted customers with a rotating sign. While some love hotels are basically more or less normal hotels without windows (if you see a hotel without windows in Japan you can be sure it’s a love hotel…) and an extremely discrete front desk other love hotels have very creative theme rooms for almost every taste – from princess bedrooms to BDSM stuff, from train compartments to whatever cliché fantasy you can imagine. The furnishing and equipment of those rooms vary heavily on the price – in addition to the standard stuff you have in a normal hotel room (TV, free tea, hairdryer, …) you usually get a games console, a karaoke machine and some condoms; some hotels have vending machines with sex toys in the hallway or the lobby. If you are willing to pay more there are basically no limits – insanely huge HDTVs, jacuzzis, massage chairs, private balconies on the top floor to enjoy the night sky and in some cases even a private swimming pool. While “rests” are about 2000 to 4000 Yen an hour “stays” cost about 8000 to 16000 Yen per room per night (usually from 10 or 11 p.m. on for 10 or 12 hours, depending on the hotel) – super luxurious rooms can cost up to 60.000 Yen per night in cities like Kyoto or Tokyo. (1000 Yen = 9 Euros / 13 US-$)
Nowadays the turnover of the love hotel industry in Japan is a whopping 4 trillion Yen per year, equivalent to about 36,000,000,000 Euros or 52,000,000,000 US-$ as of September 2011 – generated by 500 million visits to 37,000 love hotels all over the country. Love hotels are considered a whacky underground thing by many foreigners, while in fact they are part of daily life, turning over double of what the anime industry does.
Why are love hotels so successful in Japan? Because Japanese walls are thin and a lot of even not so young Japanese people are still living with their parents; the so-called parasite singles (パラサイトシングル, parasaito shinguru) enjoy the carefree and comfortable life of living at home up till their early 30s when even the late bloomers are getting married. If they want to have some passionate hours with their girlfriends, boyfriends or club acquaintances they go to a love hotel (and so do most adulterers…). It’s clean, it’s anonymous (most lovel hotel visitors don’t see any staff person!) and it’s affordable, especially if you have a job and still live with your parents. And the novelty factor of the rooms is a big plus, too!
So one day in November I met up with Damon and Andrew at a small train station somewhere in Shiga – all three of us were eager to finally explore an abandoned love hotel; especially Damon, who seems to find secret porn stashes at pretty much every location he goes to. Sadly the haikyo Love Hotel Gion didn’t have any of the (fake) glamour and sexiness you experience at a fashion hotel that’s still in business. It wasn’t even a real hotel, more like a motel – 8 row bungalows with rather deep open garages in front of them to prohibit people from getting an easy look at the license plates of the parked cars. The lot in front was quite big, so I guess another row bungalow or two were already demolished. And the one still standing was in pretty bad shape overall. Some of the “rooms” I didn’t fully explore, because the floors and roofs were falling apart, but one or two were barely touched. The downside of that was that it was pitch-black in there – luckily I brought my tripod. The layout of the bungalow sections was pretty much the same for all of them. A little lobby at the entrance, a windowless bath including a tiled tub to the left and then a bedroom straight ahead. Most of the bedrooms were covered by landscape wallpapers while the rest of the rooms had crimson wallpapers. Very, very 70s porn! (Or how an innocent young man like myself imagines something filthy like that!) Sadly most of the rooms were empty except for fixtures and solid bed frames. In one of the mini apartments we found a jukebox in questionable condition, but the most interesting detail was the wall mosaic in one of the bathrooms – it depicted two nude women in front of a horse, of one of them you could see the pubic area. Shaved, with just a little bit of hair left; except for the final stone – that one was red…
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