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
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
"We ought to go to one, some day," Vince suggested.
"Go to what?" Connie asked.
"A Love Hotel!"
"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
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
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
"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
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
"We'll go somewhere else, dear."
"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."
"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.