A Penetrating New Look at Japanese and Korean Love Hotels

korean-movie-couple-in-passionate-embrace(Source: Unknown)

If you’ve been following my recent discussions on why Koreans generally live at home until marriage, then you’ll have noticed that one gap in those were the ubiquitous love-hotels (러브호텔) that were the obvious corollary of that arrangement, and which would probably have been more interesting topics than demographic data on Korean household types and student loans too. In my defense though, I already covered premarital sex and cohabitation and their relation to Korean capitalism (yes, really) in lengthy posts back in 2007, and besides which love hotels are not only or probably even primarily used by young unmarried couples. The numbers of hotels that are in the middle of the countryside for instance, relatively devoid of that age group, and accessible only after quite some driving, testify to the fact that they are also host to just as many adulterous trysts in practice.

But that the latter occurs doesn’t mean that grown children, parents and even grandparents all under one roof can’t both be faithful to their partners and spouses and still chafe at the lack of space and privacy, and so need to get away for a few hours occasionally. Which is why although I might still balk at opening one next to an elementary school myself, I’m all for love hotels, and see no reason to pretend that both the need and the demand don’t both exist in droves. Hence I’m very interested in reading about the development of both in Ed Jacob’s new book Love Hotels: An Inside Look at Japan’s Sexual Playgrounds, which editor-in-chief James provides a quick review of over at the ironically-titled Japan Probe blog. History-cum-practical guide, I’d be surprised if the general course of events described in the book wasn’t closely paralleled in Korea too, albeit perhaps with a gap of ten to fifteen years as it reached the same level of economic development.

love-hotels-an-inside-look-at-japans-sexual-playgrounds-ed-jacobUnfortunately there the similarities probably end, for in a social environment where women are so concerned about their virginal reputation that they rely on men for contraception (lest a proactive attitude reveal their experience), and in which one of the largest prostitution industries in the world exists and is openly advertised despite periodic crackdowns and extensive legislation banning it (see here also) too, then in Korea love hotels and what occurs in them are like dogs loudly mating in the corner of the garden: an inescapable but otherwise seedy, unspoken part of life that is preferably hidden away from polite society.

In other words, the polar opposite of their hygienic and matter-of-fact Japanese counterparts. The hotels that is, not the dogs.

But having said that, it’s (naturally) been many years since I’ve visited a hotel myself, my daughters and meager family budget preventing much traveling these days.  So, in lieu of more fieldwork on my part, I’d be interested to hear if Korean love hotels are really still as bad as my experience of them in before I was married, when I used to stay in them with my then-girlfriend now-wife while traveling all over Korea. Sigh…

18 thoughts on “A Penetrating New Look at Japanese and Korean Love Hotels

  1. Brian might be a good person to ask about the current state of love motels given his series of posts on the subject. I tend to use motels while traveling and therefore grab rooms near the inter-city bus terminals. These tend to be similar to the ones I’m used to seeing from back home in the United States — which is to say, often old but clean and I sometimes get one that smells smokey. I’d say the Korean rooms look a bit nicer and cost less than their counterparts from my part of the United States though.

  2. I’d second second samedi’s recommendation of Brian’s posts…his recommendations have been really helpful in my travels around Jeonnam.
    For my experience, I’ve found the quality to be better the further away from Seoul you get. The ones I’ve stayed in Seoul are generally a little..seedy..whereas I’ve stayed in others in Jeonnam that are better than tourist hotels at half the price. There is definitely a stigma though. My lady keeps reminding me not to say motel out loud lest someone get the right idea.

  3. It’s a toss up. I stayed at one in Gangnam which wasn’t that good. While there was one near Euhwah woman’s uni that was wonderful.

    The better ones are more comfortable. Have a dvd set and pc to use. I would say I use a love motel with my bf about once a month.

    • Thanks, I will check his posts, although I’m unlikely to travel to Jeolla-do anytime soon unfortunately.

      Keobuk2, actually in my limited experience I’ve found ones in Seoul to be better myself, but then I’ve probably been to less than thirty in my entire life. Your comment about your girlfriend and the word “motel” (or do you mean “hotel,” or “yogwan” {여관}?) raises an interesting point though: why on Earth should there be a stigma really? It’s not like Korea has accommodation for backpackers everywhere, so no matter how celibate or pious one is there isn’t really anywhere else at that price range to stay. Hence my query about the exact word, because as that review at Japan Probe makes clear, in Japan at least the word “motel” especially did come to have connotations of driving somewhere for sex.

  4. Don’t have time to dig them up now, but in the long entry on motels I did I linked to a few online directories for them. No shortage of swank ones in Busan and Gangnam. Every county in Jeollanam-do has your basic clean, cheap ones, and there are a few that would be considered swanky or “theme” . . . but head to Gangnam-gu for some very stylish (and expensive) luxury motels.

  5. When It comes to “motels”, comparisons can easily be made to other cultures/countries where people live at home until their married – or forever. The love motel is ubiquitous in Latin America. Married couples often use them to get away from the kids for the night, while grandma takes care of the house. In Mexico the word “motel” refers to something with a hidden entrance way/parking that can be rented for 2 hours or the night.

    I’ve stayed in maybe 20, all over Korea, all basically the same – undecorated room for 40,000. There was nothing particularly “love” about them.

    In Brazil I had an interesting short visit to a place that had a waterfall, jacuzzi, swimming pool, disco area with stripper pole, two red bedrooms with rotating/vibrating circular beds, a bar, two bathrooms, toys, etc.

  6. Your average room around here will cost 30 to 35,000 won on a weeknight, 40 to 50 K on a weekend. You can get cheaper ones: hit or miss. I stayed in a Suncheon one for a week at 25,000 per night, and it was fine. In Insadong I think I paid 40,000, and around Shillim Station—with countless motels and houses of ill-repute—-I paid 50,000 for a room that could fit little more than a bed.

    The newer ones have different types of rooms. The above prices are for an 일반실, and usually there’s a 특실, and a VIP room, each one adding about 10,000.

    A motel I recently wrote about starts off at 40,000 for the 일반실 then goes up to 100,000 for the VIP room. The VIP room has four rooms, including a balcony with a telescope.

    In Gangnam they’re much more expensive. I stayed at a cheap one near Yeoksam station in 2006 and paid 70,000 per night. It had six different types of rooms, corresponding to a different country: Spain Room, India Room, China Room, and three others. Pretty nice.

    http://www.hotel365.co.kr/Lodg/OnePage.asp?ACode=A5000182

    But you can spend over 150,000 per night for the luxury ones.

    Around Haeundae you can get a nice VIP room for 60,000 or 70,000 won. Maybe it’s cheaper now since it’s the off season. The Noblesse is a good choice down there.

    No idea how much they cost for two-hour blocks. The average seems to be 20,000 here, or 40,000 or more in the nicer ones..

    A nice feature of Korean motels is they don’t seem to do an insane mark-up for foreigners. Taiwan does this in places. I have an example from my vacation that I”ll post a little later, but the one particular motel was charging foreigners roughly 2.5 times the rate for natives. Not the case everywhere, of course. Maybe a Korean could work out a deal to make a motel cheaper, who knows, but the rates here are pretty reasonable I find.

    I think I’d like to check out that Japanese love motel book, thanks for sharing it. Right now I need to stop checking out love motel sites at work. Funny, my computer has started blocking blogger.com—maybe my school is trying to tell me something—but I can browse love motels all I want.

  7. I’ve stayed at all kinds of yeogwans over the years. The first one I ever stayed at near 동래 was definitely of the ‘love’ vareity – thanks to the thin walls I was kept awake all night by sounds of ‘love’ and the subsequent snoring of the male participant. Before I used to live in Busan I’d stay in places near 대연 subway station and at least two of those were definitely of the ‘love’ variety – with vending machines full of love accessories in the hallways and in one a most interesting painting of a naked woman sort of flying on the ceiling above the bed painted in those weird colours that glow under UV light. Sexy!

    Other than that, most have been basically just inexpensive hotels. When travelling up the East coast a year and half ago, I learned that the magic phrase to ask the tourist agents was ‘깨끗한 여관’ – this seemed to result in the clean and proper sort of room, typically about 40,000 per night.

    In Seoul I’ve stayed at a very basic but still fairly clean and not too seedy place behind Seoul Station for 35,000 a night, I think even on a weekend. Compared to the prices around Sinchon that’s a bargain – rooms there are often full on the weekends, and at least 60,000 for a regular room. Recently, a lady tried to charge us an extra 10,000 as there were three of us, which at 70,000 seemed a lot for a drunken crash spot. That room was quite tasteful, with only an etching of a naked woman on the bathroom door.

    I actually just experienced the Haeundae motel scene this weekend as it was the bf’s birthday and we wanted to do something a little fun. The two places we checked (V and Noblesse) were 40,000 for weeknights, 50,000 for Friday night, and 60 or 70,000 Saturday nights. At Noblesse we got something between an 일반실 and 특실 for 70,000.

    I must say I was tremendously impressed with not only the cleanliness of the room (when it comes down to it, even the scuzzier places aren’t even really that dirty) and all the features of the room. We had a projection screen TV where we could watch either TV (three adult channels) or project from one of the two (!) PCs in the room. On one of the PCs we had access to a reasonable selection of downloaded movies. We had all toiletries provided for, including condoms (a box of three). Curiously, next to the bed there was a collection of literature that was apparently all about ‘well-being’ including information about sex, menstruation, and generally how to live a balanced life. This was in the same folder as the take-out menus.

    They really had thought of everything in this place. There were four (!) connectors to charge cell phones, a shoe de-oderizing box, a cell phone sanitizing box and water cooler. In the bathroom there was a shower with an awful lot of nozzles, as well as a jacuzzi tub big enough for two not very big people. There was also some sort of nozzled device which according to the graphic seemed to be for the interior cleaning of lady bits. There was also a TV in the bathroom. In the lobby there were also machines to weigh yourself (looked fancier than your average scale) and check your blood pressure. Also, they have a teddy bears for sale, ranging in price from 15,000 to around 100,000. All in all quite an impressive place.

  8. James: Yeogwan and Hotel don’t seem to quite convey the same sense of illicit activity..if you’re going to a yeogwan you are probably passing out drunk, with or without your girlfriend and hotels are..pricy. In our case, I believe the stigma is more that we are an unmarried couple though I have found that there is generally an attitude of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ about the whole thing.

    That there is nowhere else to stay..I can’t argue. My first time in one I expected a motel like back in NZ..yeh, stupid (for a Korean studies major!) Despite the lack of reasonable priced accomodation, it doesn’t stop my school raising eyebrows when I hand in my receipts (TaLK scholars get paid to travel Korea, yay!)

    As far as prices go, I generally won’t pay more than 40,000원, the most I’ve paid is 60,000원 for a rather sweet place in Bucheon (chocolate on pillow!)..though nothing compared to the one Anne just described!

    One last comment to Brian: Apparently the Jeonnam POE is now trying to block blogger..try a proxy (or use Livewriter). Back on topic..your recommendations in/around Hwasun have made at least one lady very happy. Cheers!

  9. Yeah, I used vtunnel today, although it’s very inconvenient (can’t post links). So I hope no news breaks between 8 and 5.

    Glad you liked those motels. I’m gonna try and get to them myself this month.

  10. Love motels vary so widely, it’s hard to generalize except to repeat the old proverb: ‘you get what you pay for’. I’ve stayed in some cheap / crappy ones and some of the nicest ones in Korea. They’re great when traveling on the cheap, and though most have everything you, um, need, I’ll typically have my own hair gel / hair spray / soap / shampoo… I don’t want to think if it’s really hair gel / hair spray / soap / shampoo in there…

    As long as you ask to see the room you won’t be surprised on what you’re paying for. Have fun with it :)

  11. Thanks everyone, I couldn’t have asked for much more information!

    I’m getting a definite vibe of general conditions improving over the years, but on the other hand Chris is definitely right about getting what you pay for, and I wonder what the kind of places that university students can afford to go to are like? A Korean friend of mine told me once that when she went to university ten years ago that her mother would give her and her sisters an allowance (sigh) of 10,000 won each to live off each day, which doesn’t leave much spare to go to 20,000-30,000 won an hour hotel rooms as often as a young energetic couple would presumably like. Does anyone know (or could please ask!) how much university students get these days? Allowance I mean.

    One thing I’d add to all the oddities seen at love hotels mentioned would be dildo vending machines. Yes, dildoes. Perhaps my surprise is betraying a relatively unadventurous sex life on my part, but still, I’d wager that they don’t feature highly in most couple’s repertoires, and that even if they did they’d probably bring their own rather than having the sudden urge to buy an overpriced one from a limited selection. Or is it just me?

  12. Love hotels are hit and miss, but many of the newer ones are quite nice and really good value.

    I think love hotels are great, because they offer cheap accomodation all around the country. I go on motorcycle trips with some friends on occasion, and we always stay at love hotels, usually for onlly 30,000원 a night – not a bad deal, really.

    “Penetrating Look?” Hahaha.

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