Main lobby of Queen Chateau Soapland
With a whopping 500 million visits a year, love hotels – establishments that offer couples a private, short-stay location in which they can indulge in the pleasures of the flesh – are a booming business in Japan. Indeed, it's been estimated that 1.4 million Japanese people, or 2% of the country's population, visit a love hotel each day.
Dusty old room in Queen Love Hotel
While love hotels are undoubtedly used for prostitution, regular couples also avail themselves of this rather bizarre-seeming amenity as well. Because many Japanese people still stay at home until they are married (and sometimes even afterwards, with newlyweds moving in with one of the sets of in-laws) they frequently take advantage of the good rates, quirky themes and – vitally – the privacy that love hotels offer.
Creepy corridor in Yui Grand Love Hotel
Although often kitsch in their heyday, the love hotels shown here would surely all sooner be restored to their former tawdriness than remain in the state of ruin to which many of them have been reduced.
Reception phone that probably provided communication to rooms in Queen Chateau Soapland
Is the general economic downturn to blame for the apparent trend of leaving these once busy establishments to the ravages of nature? We can't be sure – but what is certain is that you’ll be amazed at what’s still to be found in seven of Japan's eeriest abandoned love hotels.
7. Queen Chateau Soapland
Now derelict and decaying, the Queen Chateau in Ibaraki is an example of the 'soaplands' that began to flourish when open prostitution became illegal in Japan in 1958. Designed to be places for men to go and get bathed (and more) by the women working there, these places of sometimes dubious repute were originally called Turkish baths.
The moniker 'Turkish bath' was, however, dropped in 1984 after a campaign was launched by a Turkish scholar to stop its use. A nationwide contest for a new name ensued and ‘soapland’ was the winning entry. (No, we don't know what the prize was!)
This chair doesn't look particularly comfortable. A common feature of soaplands and love hotels, such seats (sometimes known as sex stools) often come with built-in grooves to ensure the bather can be extra, ahem, thorough in their duties. The baths themselves are large and made to accommodate two people.
This bathtub – once a place of pleasure – is now looking rather forlorn in its abandoned, leaf-strewn state. We wonder whether the glass bottle on the edge of the bath contained alcohol or bubble bath. Either would have enhanced the atmosphere of decadence this place must have boasted in its heyday – a mood that is now a distant memory, as this establishment was both opened and abandoned in the 1980s.
In order to ensure privacy, many Japanese love hotels have no front desk, with payment being made through pneumatic tubes or to an anonymous pair of hands behind a frosted pane of glass. While this set-up may sound like something from a dystopian sci-fi flick, it has doubtless spared many a blush on the part of customers.
6. Fuu Motel
The abandoned Fuu Motel is located in the town of Chiba, roughly 40 km east of central Tokyo, and contains fewer than 10 rooms. Each one was a spacious suite boasting its own theme and motifs – still evident – ranging from 'medieval' and 'hunting' to 'traditional Japanese'.
This suite is the epitome of an old-fashioned bordello room. One of the surprising things with these abandoned Japanese hotels is the amount of furnishings still left in the spaces. It's hard to imagine potential plunderers showing the same kind of restraint in North America.
And here is the medieval-themed room, complete with the (doubly) obsolete figure of a knight in shining armor, just visible in the background.
In lieu of a bathtub, some of the suites in the Fuu boasted their own outdoor 'onsen' – Japanese hot springs or thermal baths. Once a place for lovers to enjoy communing with each other and nature, now nature seems to have won the day, with the site overrun by dirty water and dead plants.
Dust covers this formerly spick-and-span bathroom, complete with garish and somewhat phallic gold bathtub. With the motel abandoned sometime around the year 2000, it's doubtless only a matter of time before nature begins to encroach inside the building too.
5. Yui Grand Love Hotel
This former love hotel in Chiba has an eerie atmosphere, perhaps in part the result of a horrific crime that allegedly took place here.
According to some sources, a schoolgirl was kidnapped and brought to the Yui Grand Love Hotel – which by then was already abandoned. Three criminals apparently kept her in one of the rooms, abused her and then finally murdered her.
With its buckled doors and peeling paint, it's hard to believe this was once a spot lovers frequented. Now it is a place inhabited only by ghosts – and that the living are more likely to flee from.
A graffiti artist may have wanted to bring the story of the murdered schoolgirl to life with this rendering of bloody handprints. Whoever was responsible for these eerie impressions, they certainly have the desired macabre effect.
4. Akasaka Love Hotel
Abandoned and rotting on the shore of Lake Tamako, this boudoir in the Alaska Love Hotel seems to have come straight out of a 1960s movie. The paint and wallpaper may be fading and peeling today, but at one time couples must have enjoyed their privacy against the backdrop of an exotic and vibrant decor.
From this image, it's clear nature has begun to exert her dominion over the building's exterior, with vegetation creeping up the walls and over the doorways. Soon, it seems, the whole site will be concealed by green overgrowth and destined only to survive in the memories of those who once stayed here.
3. Queen Love Hotel
Another abandoned love hotel on Lake Tamako, the Queen has completely caved in at the front, with piles of debris and furnishings creating a mountain for the urban explorer to climb.
Although they might make the place look almost scenic, these plants aren't designed to decorate the area outside the rooms. Rather, they are signs that nature is intruding with her own plans for the hotel.
In this image, we see the pneumatic tubes used to facilitate payment for customers keen for as little interaction with staff as possible.
2. Celine Hotel
Located in Tochigi, the Celine is well on its way to being a ruin, having been left derelict back in 1990. Despite the branches that are beginning to entangle their way around it, the sign is still very much visible – and the first clue that there is an abandoned hotel here.
This room – a former kitchen, perhaps – seems to have been totally trashed. It's almost as if a football team, fresh from losing a big match, came in and took out its frustrations on the place!
This sleigh-bed has surely seen better days. Abandoned and left to its own devices, the room has become a model of decay.
1. The Pearl
According to photographer Jordy Theiller, The Pearl love hotel, abandoned in 1996, was so overgrown on the outside that it was almost inaccessible. Inside, among other remains, was this enormous gold bath. Once witness to scenes of hedonism, the ornate tub now sits half-buried by a dirty screen, its lustre a thing of the past.
This huge, diamond-shaped mirror depicting a smiling woman is one of the few items left in the hotel that remained intact.
Although the room is decaying and lies under a layer of dust, the position of the duvet makes it almost seem as though a couple has only just left the bed. It's like we are somehow intruding on the lovers who had come here to indulge their private pleasure – in a culture where privacy is hard to come by.
The Queen Chateau Soapland in Ibaraki