You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Love in the fast lane

AAP logoAAP 19/12/2016 Michael Wayne

Even the hotel's name is a double-barrelled promise of erotic delight: Grand Fine.

It's our first night in Osaka after a very long journey from Australia, and the Grand Fine love hotel sounds like the kind of place that will, at the very least, inspire stories we can tell our grandchildren once they turn 16.

Lengthy sex sessions have become a luxury in this increasingly distant world. As a result, love hotels - short-stay guesthouses - are booming worldwide. Sydney's first - and to date, only - licensed love hotel, the Hotel By Hour, opened in 2011.

The concept originated in Japan, and dates back to the Tokugawa shogunate period of the 1600s. Tea houses with secret entrances and exits provided samurai with a private way to take care of business while protecting their strictly-controlled public image.

Today, the concept remains largely the same. Perhaps you're in need of a safe, discreet place for an illicit tryst. Maybe you just don't want to face the dreaded Morning After.

Love hotels ask no questions. If you need a private room for just an hour each week, or for a one-off night of lust, they have the time increment to suit your needs.

Even on a Friday night. Far from the hive of activity I expect, Hotel Grand Fine's lobby is deserted. It takes four rings of the bell before we're given our key.

As we walk up the cramped, narrow corridors to our room, excitedly chatting about what it may contain (mirrored ceiling? vibrating bed?), I become aware that Grand Fine is almost completely silent. I'm not sure what I expected ... a cacophony of lovemaking emanating from every room?

But when we open the door to our room, it's clear that whatever's happened in this hotel, love has never stayed.

"It smells like my grandparents' house," Kathy says. From this, I can only derive that her grandparents must have each smoked at least 20 packets of cigarettes a day for centuries. As we cross the threshold, I can feel the particles of decades-old smoke beginning to cling to our clothing like suckerfish to the underside of sharks.

Love hotels often feature theme rooms to add a bit of spice and fun to the chore of lovemaking. A Tarzan tree-top room, a Sultan's Harem or an Undersea Grotto are standards. We seem to have stumbled into the 70's Post Office.

Our room is decked out with the essentials: a massage chair; a vending machine stocked with skimpy bedroom attire for her, and Pringles for him; a sound system pumping out decidedly unsexy J-pop, and hooked up to a karaoke machine for when the mood strikes; a shower room seemingly on loan from a prison; a spa shaped like a vagina; and a bed swathed in a mozzie net.

Beside the bed is a table equipped with two condoms (just two?), a packet of lube, a giant massage rod and a single red feather. No Gideon Bible, strangely enough. But there is a handy map of the local area.

The table also contains a set of controls for the room's "intimate starlight" system.

There's only one window, hidden behind a secret panel on the wall. This place takes privacy seriously.

A mirrorless ceiling and a linoleum floor round out the decor.

Most curious of all is the fully functioning slot machine in the corner, providing occupants with another way to get lucky. Big winners can trade in their tokens for "high end consumer electronics" and theme park tickets - in case they've still got a thirst for fun after their Grand Fine stay.

Hungry, disturbed and slowly being strangled by the stench of cigarettes, we call room service. The menu provides a mix of traditional Japanese dishes and western fare like burgers and pizza 24 hours a day. Unfortunately, it's all in Japanese.

It's touches like this that make me think this hotel is meant more for locals than tourists.

Keeping private lives private is still a big part of Japanese society. Having a place like Grand Fine around for sex and feather-related fun has probably done more for society here than we as flippant tourists will ever understand.

When our fries arrive, I ask - in my worst Japanese - if the room is non-smoking, as I'd booked. "Non-smoking, yes."

But the room reeks of smoke. "Smoking, yes."

A dead end. The pungent fries will have to work overtime to mask the smell.

After deciding against a round of soothing karaoke, it's time for bed.

Exhausted - and if you can believe it, just not in the mood - we bunk down for some solid sleep. We'd splurged and booked the 12-hour package (sometimes you have to spoil yourself).

Just in case you're thinking 'this guy's an idiot', love hotels are just as suitable for a cheap-and-cheerful night's sleep as they are for sex.

For one thing, the late checkouts and secret windows guarantee an undisturbed sleep-in. The rooms are also kept meticulously clean, and some are near sound-proof. That's right: love hotels are the anti-hostels.

Once the lights are off, however, sleep doesn't come easy. "This bed is too hard," says Kathy.

That such rigidity should be possible in this love-forsaken hotel is an achievement both grand and fine.

At check-out time the next morning, another four rings of the bell summons the attendant to the still-deserted lobby . He asks how our stay was.

"Fine," I reply.

"Grand fine?" he smiles, with a rehearsed wink.

IF YOU GO

GETTING THERE: Flights from Sydney to Itami Airport in Osaka (via Tokyo) are operated by Qantas, ANA and Japan Airlines, and last around 13 hours. The Hotel Grand Fine is a half-hour train trip from Osaka Airport, but a taxi can get you there in around 15 minutes.

STAYING THERE: Rooms at the Hotel Grand Fine Toyonaka Minami in Osaka start at 5200 yen ($AUD60.00) per night. Earlybird specials are available for those booking way ahead of time. For info, visit hotel-grand-fine-toyonaka-minami-osaka.com.

* The writer travellled at his own expense.

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon