Patchwork Yokohama
4. Romantic Yokohama
by Pencil Louis
           Like so many  things  in  Japan,  Vince  learned  about love
          hotels from several sources on the same day. It was a Friday
          and it started  with  a  snippet  on  a  morning  television
          programme while he was eating breakfast. It showed dozens of
          couples in their  late  teens  and  early  twenties lined up
          outside a Love  Hotel  in  Shibuya,  which  was all the rage
          because each room  had  a  select  number  of  video  games.
          Mirrors on the  ceiling were now out, the announcer informed
          Vince, and video  games  were  in.  While he did wonder what
          sort of video  games  young  couples  might  play  in a Love
          Hotel, Vince did feel that the idea of mirrors held a subtle
          attraction.

          It seemed that  everyone  had just discovered Love Hotels at
          the same time  as Vince. Once he arrived at his daytime job,
          one of the  American teachers, Kath, told an assembled group
          how shocked she  had  been  when  a male Japanese friend had
          suggested that they  go  to a Love Hotel. She concluded with
          absolute repugnance that:

          "... these places only exist for people to have sex."

          How  uncouth!  Vince   himself  could  see  nothing  at  all
          repulsive about hotels that existed just for sex. But one of
          the Japanese teachers,  Mariko-sensei,  had overheard Kath's
          tirade and saw  fit  to  take  Vince aside to better explain
          that Love Hotels  weren't just for sex. Travellers used them
          on long trips  to  catch  up  on a couple of hours of sleep.
          Young mothers with small children also found them convenient
          when they had  to  spend  a  day in the city. And many, many
          married couples found them convenient ...


          "... because Japanese  homes  are  very  small and there are
          certain things that  are  very hard to do when your children
          and your parents are in the same room."

          Vince had been in enough family homes to sympathise. He knew
          that there weren't  a  lot of places to enjoy marital bliss,
          once the children  got to a certain age. And before they got
          to that age,  it  was traditional for the father to sleep on
          the left side,  the  mother on the right and the children in
          the  middle.  It   must   have   been   the  most  effective
          contraceptive in Japan. He knew that both the Matsumotos and
          the Atsukawas bedded  down  in  this sort of arrangement. It
          was  little  wonder   that  the  birth  rate  in  Japan  was
          declining. Indeed, it  seemed  to  be  a  matter  of as much
          wonderment to the  Atsukawas  as  to the Patchworks just how
          the Matsumotos had managed to have their third child.

          As for premarital  sex,  Vince  was  all  for  it,  AIDS and
          unwanted babies aside.   As  with  any  culture, courting in
          Japan had its own peculiar rituals. Girls had no compunction
          about having sex with a man on the same night they met, they
          just wouldn't go  to Tokyo Disneyland on the first date. One
          of Yokohama's all-star attractions was the Bay Bridge, which
          was the country's  number one lover's lane. It was bumper to
          bumper all the  way onto the bridge and a quick check of car
          number plates indicated  that  young  lovers  had  come from
          Hiroshima, Akita, Hokkaido  and  Kagoshima, for this special
          moment. Vince and  Connie had stopped on the bridge once and
          discovered the view  wasn't the greatest. If you looked down
          below, you were  greeted  by  the  sight  of stacks of rusty
          shipping  containers.  They  didn't  see  much  hugging  and
          kissing. Young lovers  usually  had a third person with them
          to drive the  car and take photos. Police cars patrolled the
          bridge with blaring  speakers  asking  people  to  move  on,
          although no one took any notice of them.


          The romantic days  of  the  year  were Christmas Eve and New
          Year's Eve. On  these  nights,  you couldn't book a hotel in
          the town, business or love, minshuku or ryokan, Tokyo Hilton
          or Happy Stay. So strong was this trend that when Connie had
          asked her primary  school  English class when Christmas was,
          they had told  her  that it was on 24th. December. And there
          was no convincing them otherwise.


          Vince had decided that he could leave the video games to the
          teenagers, but the  thought of those mirrors on the ceiling,
          that was something else. After all, Vince considered himself
          something of a  romantic  and Connie could have vouched that
          their best sex  had  always occurred outside the confines of
          their own bedrooms.


          That afternoon, Vince  and  Connie  were  driving  along the
          Tomei Expressway in a car they'd borrowed from the Atsukawas
          to visit Mount  Fuji  for a weekend away from home when they
          spotted not just  one  but  a  series  of Love Hotels at the
          Yokohama Interchange. They  hung  over  the highway in gawdy
          designs - Cinderella  castles  or  Turkish palaces. And they
          had  names  to  match.   Freedom  Shower,  Hotel  Seeds.They
          sounded like yet another Japanese joke at the expense of the
          English Language. Hotel  Seeds,  one  billboard claimed, was
          evidently famous for  its Creative Rooms. And then there was
          the Queen Elizabeth, a hotel in the shape of a luxury liner.
          Vince  hoped that  the  real  Queen  Elizabeth  looked  more
          ship-shape than this one. If nothing else, it needed a paint
          job.

          "We ought to go to one, some day," Vince suggested.

          "Go to what?" Connie asked.

          "A Love Hotel!"

          "Whatever for?"

          "Well, I'm told that they're ... er ... different."

          "You haven't been trying them out, have you, Vince?"

          "No, of course not."

          "So, what have you heard?"

          "Oh, just that some have video games and ..." inc

          "Oh, video games.! That's great. We'd just go out of our way
          to get to a hotel, so we could play video games."

          "They have other  things,"  Vince  muttered. "They sometimes
          have mirrors on the ceilings."

          But Connie wasn't  listening,  "You  don't  even  like video
          games."

          It wasn't until  a  month  later when Connie decided to take
          him out for dinner in Shibuya on his birthday that Vince got
          his wish. He  insisted  that  they  also  lash out on a Love
          Hotel. Unfortunately, when  it  came to finding one, neither
          knew where to  start.  They could hardly call into the local
          police  box  and   ask  them  to  recommend  a  Love  Hotel,
          specifically one with  mirrors.  And  what  would they do if
          they happened to stumble into one that had those awful video
          games. He'd probably  never  get  Connie  into  another Love
          Hotel in her life.

          In the end,  they walked through the back streets of Shibuya
          and took pot  luck.  They  strolled  into  a  modest-looking
          establishment called Wons Inn. Vince joked that once in, you
          never got out again. A pair of hands behind an opaque screen
          took  their  money  and  slid  a  key  towards  them.  Vince
          reflected that he could very well have been placing a bet at
          the TAB.  They took the elevator to the fourth floor. It was
          called the fifth floor, because four is an unlucky number in
          Asia. Each of  the  rooms  had a red light on the outside to
          indicate  whether they  were  occupied  or  not.  The  light
          outside their own  room  was flashing to hasten them inside.
          It was there that the excitement stopped.

          To Vince's total  dismay, the room was exactly the same as a
          thousand second class  hotel  rooms around the world. He had
          even seen the  same  blue  movie,  about  two girls who were
          raped by three  men  and a video camera, in a business hotel
          room in Kyushu.   And far from mirrors on the ceiling, there
          was cracking plaster.  Vince  stared  at  them  for  several
          moments, hoping that  mirrors  would  magically  appear.  He
          tried all the  buttons  on  the  bed head and the walls, but
          they  were  evidently   not  for  the  sliding  panels  that
          concealed the mirrors.  They  were  for  the TV, the bedside
          light, the alarm clock and there was one button which seemed
          to be for  nothing  at  all. Vince even checked the bathroom
          mirror to see if it had ceiling attachments.

          Vince was not the sort of man who was so easily defeated. On
          their wedding anniversary  two  weeks later, he borrowed the
          Atsukawa's  car again  and  drove  across  to  the  Yokohama
          Interchange to find the Hotel Queen Elizabeth Sekitei. Vince
          wondered if the ruling British monarch knew that there was a
          Love Hotel named  after  her or rather named after her boat.
          Whether her majesty  knew  or  not, Vince was convinced that
          the Queen Elizabeth  in  the  shape of an ocean liner, would
          surely  be regal  enough  inside  to  have  mirrors  on  the
          ceiling.

          Nozomi Atsukawa had  been  delighted  when she'd heard about
          their romantic sojourn. She gave Connie a bottle of wine and
          armed Vince with  a  special  energy  drink.  Osamu was less
          enthusiastic. He kept warning Vince:

          "They  have  video   cameras   in   those   places.  Private
          detectives, too."

          "So, they're going  to  film  me  having  sex  with my wife.
          Imagine what Kiichi  Miyazawa's  going  to  do when he finds
          out. He'll deport both of us, for sure."

          If Wons Inn  had been discreet, the Queen Elizabeth was even
          more so. There  was  even  a  rubber  strip to lay over your
          number plates. Vince  hadn't  bothered  to  put  the slab of
          rubber up over  the  plate  and  it  was  only later that he
          realised that, as  it  was  Osamu's  car,  they  would  have
          assumed his farmer friend was inside.

          The reception area  seemed  more  like a confessional. There
          were two elevators,  one only took passengers going up while
          the other was  for  people  going  down. And never would the
          twain meet. Vince  was  surprised  to discover that once you
          got off the  first  level,  the  Queen Elizabeth looked more
          like a luxury  liner  on  the  inside  than  it  did  on the
          outside.

          The room had  everything  - a walking exerciser, bar fridge,
          sauna, spa bath,  video  karaoke  set, room service delivery
          meals, three cylinder  ten speed toilet and twelve different
          types of hair  tonic.  Their room, 104, was right in the bow
          with a proper  porthole.  It  had everything, everything but
          mirrors on the  ceiling.  Connie  made the mistake of giving
          Vince his genki  drink  to  try to relax him and it took all
          her strength to  stop  him  going downstairs and smashing in
          the confessional.


          "We'll go somewhere else, dear."

          "Where?"

          "I don't know  where,  but we'll find some place. They can't
          have all taken down their mirrors."

          "It's taken three months to ...," and then as if in a vision
          he remembered. "Seeds. Hotel Seeds. Creative rooms. Tell me,
          Connie, creative rooms  would  have  to  have mirrors on the
          ceilings, wouldn't they?"

          "I suppose they would."

          "Let's go!"

          "But ..."

          "Now!"

          "But ..."

          "There's not a moment to lose."

          "Vince, let's enjoy  this first. We have paid for it ... and
          it's not that bad. Even without the mirrors."

          Connie managed to  get Vince to hold out until her birthday,
          a month later  and, for better or worse, talked Vince out of
          ringing up about  the  mirrors first. Of course, Hotel Seeds
          was not quite  as  up-market as the Queen Elizabeth nor were
          the rooms nearly  as  creative. The bathroom was designed on
          the open look  plan,  so  that  you  could either watch your
          partner bathing or  watch television while you yourself were
          bathing. For shy  patrons,  there  were  roller  blinds that
          could be drawn  down  for  privacy. Everything was inscribed
          with  the  name   of   the   hotel.   Seeds  glasses,  Seeds
          toothbrushes, Seeds razors, Seeds pillow slips, Seeds towels
          and wash cloths, even Seeds condoms.

          Alas,  there  were  no  mirrors  and,  at  last,  Vince  was
          convinced that every  mirror had been traded in on brand new
          video games. Not  that he saw any of the video games either.
          They plugged into  the  karaoke system and sang Ichi en dama
          no tabigarasu twice,  had  a  couple  of glasses of wine and
          made love totally unreflected except in each other's eyes.

          "I guess it would have put me off anyway," Vince admitted.

          St. Valentine's Day  was not a particularly romantic time in
          Japan. Women gave  chocolate  to all the men in their lives,
          most particularly their  bosses,  teachers  and fathers. The
          menfolk were meant  to  reciprocate  on  White  Day on 14th.
          March, although not all did.

          Connie had been 27 before she even knew when St. Valentine's
          Day was. On  that  day,  Vince  had  handed her a half dozen
          blood red roses.  She had never actually given him anything,
          but this year she made an exception. She told Vince to close
          his eyes and  led  him  into the tatami room. When he opened
          his eyes again,  there  was a mirror the size of a king size
          bed leaning against the wall.


          "Happy Valentine's Day,  darling,"  Connie kissed him on the
          side of the  cheek.  "I  would  have  put  it on the ceiling
          myself, but I'm  afraid I couldn't get it up by myself. It's
          a two person job. I hope we've got all the tools."

          It was a  large  and strenuous job to bolt the mirror to the
          ceiling. At last,  it  was  firmly  attached  and  Vince was
          rubbing off the  finger  marks  muttering,  "I hope we don't
          have any bloody earthquakes."

          Alas, mirrors on  the  ceiling  posed a mathematical problem
          for  the  Patchworks.   If  you  were  doing  anything,  you
          couldn't watch and  if you weren't doing anything, there was
          nothing to watch.  It  was obvious to Connie's embarrassment
          that the Atsukawas,  Matsumotos and countless other Japanese
          visitors guessed exactly  what  the  ceiling mirror was for.
          Vince soon took  it  down  and sold it for a pittance to the
          local secondhand shop.  Connie  and  he  had discussed it, a
          video camera would be far better value.