leisure hotel

Giant Pachinko Palace

Casinos and Love Hotels: Fantastic Architecture in Beppu

Las Vegas Casino

Las Vegas, in Japan.

While strolling Beppu’s streets (looking for cats or onsen), sometimes a building would catch my eye that had such bizarre architecture that I figured it could be one of two things: either a casino or a love hotel. I laughed when I saw a casino named “Las Vegas”. Admittedly, when I think of Las Vegas all I think of is gambling, too. The Las Vegas building was decorated with red-white-and-blue American colors for that authentic atmosphere, and specialized in pachinko and slot machines.

For more traditional pachinko gambling, a ginormous, flashy yellow building shouts itself into being noticed along the main road. Palaces like that one are testament to the popularity of pachinko and the lucrativeness of owning a gambling business. In the evenings, through the windows I could see rows of what looked like salarymen (guys in businesswear) staring into the machines.

Hotel Swing

This is the hotel I caught sight of in the distance at night before finding the locals’ bathhouse. It doesn’t look quite so threatening during day, when you can see the colors and not just the slit windows. (From Google Images)

Because of space restrictions, many Japanese families live in small apartments. Consequently, couples don’t have many opportunities to have time away from the kids. Married couples are one demographic that takes advantage of love hotel services. These short-stay hotels allow visitors to choose a room for a “rest” (1-3 hours) or an overnight stay. They are not brothels, although unfortunately the total privacy they offer doesn’t discriminate legal from illegal activities. According to Wikipedia, the name originates from Osaka’s 1968 “Hotel Love”, and

has since taken alternate guises by operators trying to make their place sound more fashionable than competition: “romance hotel”, “fashion hotel”, “leisure hotel”, “amusement hotel”, “couples hotel”, and “boutique hotel”. Often you can identify love hotels from their gaudy exteriors (castles, boats, UFOs, neon lighting). Another give-away is when signs outside are decorated with hearts. I remember staring at an eight-story building, wondering why its windows were tiny slits (balistraria?). If it weren’t for the colorfully patterned walls, I might think it was a prison.

Beppu's red light district entrance

I don’t know if this is really a “red light district”, but there are a lot of bars and clubs in the alleyways back there.

The weirdest, kinkiest hotels are what get blogged about (dungeons, fantasy scenes, Hello Kitty S&M). While it’s scary to think about the safety issues of these venues, the creative architecture designs are amusing to see as a casual tourist on the outside. For the sake of couples who don’t want anything fancy, just some quality time, there are ordinary looking buildings whose main feature is guaranteeing privacy. I can’t imagine love hotels being successful in puritan America, especially since laws require renters to give their information for safety and liability reasons. Considering America’s crime rate compared to Japan’s, I don’t think America is mature enough to handle couples hotels.

The most interesting love hotels in Beppu are lined up by the docks. They give off a quiet, respectable vibe just like any hotel. Beppu’s host and hostess clubs occupy the hidden alleyways farther inland, a completely different scene. While we searched for cats, my friend and I were amused by fancily dressed men standing outside clubs.

As my high school English professor used to proclaim, life and Shakespeare run on drugs, sex, and rock n’ roll. Every culture dresses them differently.