With restaurants, shops and clubs on every corner, the face of Shibuya is constantly changing, but Love Hotel Hill retains a unique charm. The illicit area behind Dogenzaka has remained as a reliably eclectic mishmash of love hotels and sex shops.

Craig Stennett

Perpetual Redevelopment

Shibuya is known for being a hub of entertainment, with a recent mayor claiming that his aim was for the area to be likened to “New York or London.” It’s a region that is constantly being redeveloped. This was particularly evident prior to the now-infamous 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Buildings are often torn down and new skyscrapers built in a minute.

Since 2018, Shibuya’s skyline has seen six new skyscrapers, built to advertise the city to the world in time for 2020. And there are more to come. As part of the ongoing developments, the 70-year-old Tokyu Store will be replaced by a 36-story skyscraper with a hotel, shops and apartments.

Further up the road, in Dogenzaka, two of Shibuya’s favorite clubs: Vision and Contact are set to be demolished to make way for a 30-story high-rise with hotel and offices. The news of the latter has been met with a sigh of resignation from the clubbing community, a tight scene that is accustomed to the constant changing of the urban landscape.

Across the lights from Contact however, lies the entrance to Love Hotel Hill.

Craig Stennett

Love is All Around

For the uninitiated, love hotels are a place to ‘stay’ for a few hours, often with a sexual partner, although they also offer night packages for people who are genuinely looking for a place to stay. They were originally used mostly by female sex workers to take control of their environment and offer their services in a safe space.

Over the years, especially during the 1970s, love hotels evolved and eventually became popular among lovers as privacy can be a hard thing to find in Tokyo’s tiny apartments with paper-thin walls. Soon they were sought after by more and more members of the general public.

Due to the stigma behind love hotels, it was difficult to advertise, so the buildings had to be as alluring as possible to attract customers. The popularity of an elaborate castle-style love hotel in 1973 spurned a series of copycats. Gradually the exteriors became gaudier and gaudier. Until 1984 that is, when love hotels were strictly regulated under an entertainment law.

Samuel Ponce

Love (Hotel Hill) Withstanding

Love Hotel Hill area (mainly Dogenzaka and Maruyamacho) has remained largely unchanged and untouched by developers since it was established in the 1970s. This is, in part, due to the ‘Shibuya City Love Hotel Architecture Regulation Ordinance,’ enacted in 2006, designed to block new love hotels from being built.

The thinking behind the policy was partly due to the negative connotations around love hotels, seen to enable prostitution and negate the tone of the city. A by-product of the act meant that normal hotels were also difficult to build. Ironically, blocking the building of new hotels meant that due to a lack of choice, standing ones (such as love hotels) could stay.

Craig Stennett

Love Conquers All

The high concentration of love hotels in Dogenzaka has turned the area into something of an adult zone. Not only are there hotels but massage parlors, sex shops and pink salons (specializing in oral sex) are also rife, hidden in plain sight under neon signs and flashing lights.

Many love hotels around Shibuya Love Hotel Hill are simple neon affairs, with signs advertising ‘Rest’ and ‘Stay’ but some throwback to the gaudy heyday of castles, pirate ships and gimmicks. A notable example is the Sweets Hotel Ruby, adorned with giant plastic donuts and biscuits. It offers pick ‘n’ mix tubes and has lollipops hanging from the ceiling. One for the teatime lovers.

Craig Stennett

Another is Hotel Casanova, which is like Paris Hilton’s dream bedroom. There are blue pinstripes, pink piping and gold neon stars on the walls.

Craig Stennett

Hotel Sunreon 2 is just around the corner, in pastel colors blocks like a motel in Texas.

Craig Stennett

Head down the hill to Hotel Sulata, one of the luxury hotels, boasting palm trees and Mediterranean white stone style flourishes along the front.

Craig Stennett

Hotel Beat Wave is jazzed up with ‘elegant’ golden embellishments. The rooms inside include ‘kawaii’ cosplay and a coffee machine.

Craig Stennett

Even though the restrictions and regulations surrounding love hotels have forced many of them to take a back seat with the decorations, Shibuya Love Hotel Hill still has that illicit vibe. Strolling around — especially during nighttime —  is an interesting experience.