Out of Japan: Clinical passion at the edge of the universe

TOKYO - While staying as a guest of a Japanese family with their own children last year, one question kept nagging at the prurient part of my mind.

The apartment they lived in was characteristically tiny - two small bedrooms and a living room with a fold-down couch which served as a bed at night. The rooms were separated by sliding paper screens, which did nothing to block sound and even showed silhouettes against the light.

How did the couple find the privacy to make love? One night while drinking beer with the husband, he told me. He and his wife regularly went to a love hotel close by for a few hours of intimacy - in the early evening, or on a Sunday afternoon.

Love hotels are spread all over Asia, where the supposed Christian ideal of life-long fidelity to one's spouse is replaced by an easy-going, matter-of-fact approach to sex. But while in South-east Asia love hotels still have an aura of the forbidden fruit - usually patronised by men who are paying their companion for her services - in Japan the wheel has come full circle, largely because of extortionate property prices and cramped living conditions.

Increasingly, Japanese love hotels are used by young couples still living with parents, people who live too far away to entice their date back 'for a cup of coffee', and even married couples whose children no longer fall asleep after dinner. The love hotel is the ultimate escape from Japan's swirling masses.

In the pursuit of journalistic accuracy, I went to a love hotel - an adventure which turned into an eerie, anonymous 2001 odyssey into the clinical heart of sex in Japan. The hotel - actually called a 'fashion hotel', as love hotel is regarded as slightly vulgar - had a small sign outside, in pink, the signal colour of Japan's sex trade.

The automatic doors swished open to reveal a small lobby. In a panel were pictures of the different rooms - the vacant ones being lit. There was no one at the desk, just a telephone. I picked it up. The woman who answered simply said my friend and I should push the button of the room number we wanted. Beside it was listed the price for the room - by the hour, or for the whole night.

Click. This activated the lift, which opened and then closed behind us. There were no controls but the lift automatically stopped at the designated floor, and as we stepped out a series of flashing arrows seemed to be indicating a way down the corridor and around a corner.

Behind other doors were sounds of squeaking, moaning and, strangest of all - the unmistakable amplification of people singing to a karaoke machine. Still we had seen no other human, but outside our chosen room was a flashing light, and the door was swinging open. When they attach the electrodes to my brain, I will tell them everything, I thought.

The room itself was comfortably spacious - far larger than an ordinary hotel room in Japan. The bathroom was complete with new toothbrushes, razors and oils and creams. The bed was large, and set into one wall was a TV set, which had pornographic films, video games and a karaoke facility. The karaoke microphones extended to the bed, intended no doubt for a passionate duet between the sheets.

So far, so good. A thick instruction booklet explained how everything worked, although the mass of control switches beside the bed provoked some confusion until we worked out how the lights dimmed without activating the volume on the TV. Beside the door was a meter, as in a taxi, which clicked up the hourly charge, as well as any drinks taken out of the computerised mini-bar. I was expecting to hear the voice of the alien intelligence which controlled the building to start telling us what to do.

Behind the bed was a notebook to record one's comments, and even pre-printed multiple answer sheets on sexual themes, with his and her columns - how was the foreplay, how long, orgasm count, and so on.

The whole thing was more intimidating than one's first

adolescent experiences with the opposite sex. Once I had showered, shaved, brushed my teeth, played a video game, flicked through the movie channels and attempted a karaoke song, the actual act of sex hardly seemed relevant any more.

At the end, a button beside the door summons an attendant, who is paid through a small flap before he or she discreetly disappears.

The door swings open again, the lift is waiting, and by the time I reached the street and saw passers-by, it was like a home-coming to mankind from the most distant recesses of the universe.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
News
Robert De Niro has walked off the set of Edge of Darkness
news The Godfather Part II actor has an estimated wealth of over $200m
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Sport
Robbie Savage will not face a driving ban
football
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Voices
voices
Life and Style
Nearly half of all young people in middle and high income countries were putting themselves at risk of tinnitus and, in extreme cases, irreversible hearing loss
health Nearly half of all young people in middle and high income countries are at risk of tinnitus
News
It was only when he left his post Tony Blair's director of communications that Alastair Campbell has published books
people The most notorious spin doctor in UK politics has reinvented himself
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in ‘I Am Michael’
filmJustin Kelly's latest film tells the story of a man who 'healed' his homosexuality and turned to God
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower