Try as I might, I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing. We had just been told by the station attendant that the Akita Shinkansen would not be running for the rest of the night. Yup, you read that right. Not running. Like at all. Along with many other now-stranded travelers, my plans were completely FUBAR. There was just no way that we were going to make our way down to Ichinoseki where we had a hotel booked. Moreover, literally all of the hotels in Akita City were booked out. Left with no recourse, all the station attendants could do was offer us the stranded bullet train for the night so that we could get some sleep.
Looking back at it now, I have to laugh. Honestly, you’d be hard pressed to come up with a more messed up logistical nightmare. Alas, we weren’t in a humorous mode when we were in Akita. You see, my travel partner had kindly offered to cart us around in a rental car on the following day. To do so, she was going to need to be well rested else we crash into a curb or something. With this in mind, the two of us frantically searched every OTA in existence in a last-ditch attempt to get her a room somewhere. Luckily, we were able to snag what was likely the last vacancy available in Akita due to a cancellation at the 11th hour.
My ever-hilarious travel companion now set with a room, it was time to turn my attention to myself. While I could have got some ZZZs aboard the Akita Shinkansen with the assistance of a few Strong Zeros, I knew that I’d pay for it professionally in the coming days. At the end of the day, alcohol-induced sleep on a bullet train just isn’t going to cut it when it comes to recovery. With the knowledge that I too should get a good night of sleep, I set out to make use of a travel hack that I had long known about but had thus far not had a reason to make use of. Put bluntly, I made a beeline for the nearest love hotel.
Staying in a Love Hotel
Wait a minute Donny. You WHAT!?!?! Yup… Contrary to what most people think (and indeed, what most people actually use them for), love hotels can be a great failsafe when the proverbial fecal matter hits the fan. While I would never suggest that people willingly opt to lodge at a place that people frequently fornicate in, Japan’s love hotels are extremely clean and often quite luxurious options compared to what you’d get for the same price. As those who have been inside one before can attest, they are surprisingly nice in many instances too.
To be honest, the room in Akita that I got to crash in would have cost me two to three times as much if I had booked it as a “normal” hotel room. I had a huge bed, plenty of space to move about, etc. The only real downside to my lodging arrangements had to do with how the business model works. Essentially, you can reserve love hotels for “rests” or “stays.” In most cases the former is a handful of hours (enough to play a round or two of nude hanky panky) whereas the latter is for those looking to spend the night with their lover.
Obviously, if you’re going to consider a love hotel as a last ditch effort to find a place to stay (a la me in Akita), you’re going to want to opt for the overnight plan. I remember paying only a mere 8,000 yen for what would have been a full eight hours of sleep had we not had to get up early to make up for the lost time. All in all, this 8-hour is really the only drawback to this emergency backup option. Other than that (and the knowledge of what that bed has been used for), it is not too bad in a pinch!
Finding a love hotel can be both easy and hard at the same time. If you plug in the search query into Google Maps, you’ll often be presented with a cluster of facilities. It’s only thereafter that the real challenge presents itself — finding a facility that has an open room. In almost all cases, love hotels in Japan work on a first come, first serve basis. Frankly speaking, I lucked out as I was able to get the last room on a busy Saturday night in summer. Especially in emergencies like a grounded Akita Shinkansen, you will have additional competition.
Now, while I don’t agree with this practice in the slightest, you can’t actually share a love hotel room with another member of the same sex. Rather than try to make a statement about anything in relation to LGBTIQA+ on a forum that won’t actually alter anything in Japan, allow me to just be blunt and say that the staff absolutely won’t let two people of the same gender into a room. If you’re traveling with someone of the opposite sex, this is an option but it means you have to share a bed (or sleep on the floor)…
Some Other Options
Well, what about the people who can’t get the thought of what unholy acts have happened on those mattresses out of their heads. Do they have any “last stand” style recourses when all goes to shit in a handbasket? As it turns out, they actually do! If this is you, look no further than one of the country’s many internet cafes! Though by no means as luxurious, they can serve a similar role in situations where there’s no other alternative. Assuming that they too aren’t booked out, you can usually get a small room with a flat cushion to curl up on.
Another option at your disposal if you have a Japanese speaker in your party is to directly call hotels. Oftentimes, there’s a small discrepancy in what OTA’s like Agoda display and the actual inventory available. In my friend’s case, she was able to snag a room that had previously been reserved by someone on a group tour. While we found this online, we probably could have avoided a lot of worry if we had just called around to some of the hotels in Akita that were supposedly all booked out.
Regardless of whether you go for a love hotel or something else though, one learning of this entire fiasco is that you need to move fast. When we first heard the news, my friend and I thought that we’d have to suck it up and stay on the train. It was only thereafter that we started considering alternatives. In retrospect, if we had moved right away, we probably both could have come up with a better solution. In her case, she paid an arm and a leg for the hotel and in mine, well… let’s just say the compromises should be obvious.
On that note though, allow me to wrap things up by reiterating that love hotels in Japan are always spotless. In fact, given that the staff know exactly what is going on in there, they pay extra attention to sanitization. And hey, it’s not like there is no rumpy pumpy going on at normal hotels either. Given this, you really shouldn’t have any qualms about lodging in a love hotel if you can get past the name and the awkwardness of staying in one all alone.
Anyway, thanks to my quick thinking and apparently lack of concern for sleeping on sheets worthy of a pimp’s house, I was able to rest up enough to have a killer day again exploring Hiraizumi. Had I wavered and waited even a few more minutes, I suspect the room I got would have been taken by a horny couple or another stranded soul. Should you ever be in a similar situation, act quickly and do not hesitate. It could be the difference between sleeping soundly on a bed or in your seat on the Akita Shinkansen.
Until next time travelers…