Prisoner of Love (Hotel)

In honor of tax season, I’d like to share a cautionary tale of what happens when you let your libido run your finances.

Way back in 2005, I was living in Japan, working as a translator for a government agency. Life was good: I was making more money that I ever have or will again, I had a sweet little apartment in an amazing city, and I was kicking butt with my Capoeira group . There was only one problem: I was living in a dick desert.

There’s something that happens in Japan that’s known as “2 to 10 syndrome.” Women who were considered extremely attractive in the US are suddenly considered plain in a sea of fashion-obsessed, size 0 Japanese women. Meanwhile, American guys who would be considered average looking back home are suddenly compared to Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise. I attempted to skirt this injustice by dating Japanese guys, with little success. There I was, in the prime of my youth, and nobody wanted to get with me!

Then I met Rodrigo.

It was the night of a big, terrible, disco-themed expat party in a minor tourist town best known for its giant Buddha. I was sipping beers with my wingwoman Cowgirl when we spotted a gorgeously pubescent looking boy lurking with crowd of South American laborers. (Brief history lesson: massive numbers of Japanese people immigrated to Brazil in the early 20th century, to work on coffee plantations. In the 1980s, the children and grandchildren of these immigrants started returning to Japan to perform heavy labor on special work visas. Strange but true.) We approached him, and asked him how old he was. He didn’t speak any English or Japanese, but his friends did, and they verified he was 21. So naturally, Cowgirl and I took turns making out with him.

Rodrigo was half Japanese, but had grown up in Sao Paulo. And sweet Jesus, he was pretty. We sat in the corner making out for two hours while his friends unsuccessfully hit on my friends (Cowgirl had long since moved on to another victim). I asked him if he wanted to go somewhere more private. He replied “Sim.”

House of the Rising Bone

I asked a Japanese friend if there were any love hotels nearby. He recommended one called “Benkyo Beya” which translates as “The Study Room.” Rodrigo and I hopped in a cab, where we were transported to a pink building adorned with gigantic Kewpie Doll statues, like an adorably Japanese rendition of a pharoah’s tomb. The hotel’s pink and blue Engrish sign was a bit creepy as well: it shows a silhouette of a boy and a girl reading a book, with the legend “Come On My House.” To the uninitiated, a love hotel is a sort of classy hourly motel where people go to hook up/conduct affairs, given the lack of privacy in many Japanese homes. The rooms are often decorated with bizarro stuff like dentist chairs and spaceship beds. Unfortunately, this hotel’s theme was “rustic country,” replete with Laura Ashley floral bed spreads, a rocking chair, and bubblegum pink wallpaper. Not exactly conducive to getting freaky. There was also a pachinko machine, a karaoke console, and a dildo minibar. (You can see photos of all the rooms on their website , I think we were in #306).

On the upside, there was a massive, heart-shaped bath tub. We filled it with hot water and bubbles, and started getting down to business, until Rodrigo’s phone rang. He answered in Portuguese, before passing it to me. His friend Javier (who spoke fluent Japanese and could thus translate) was on the line.

“I need to pick up Rodrigo now, we’re playing futbol in the morning and he needs his rest!”

“But I’m paying 10,000 yen (about $120) for this room, and we just got here! I’ll send him home in a cab in the morning, it will be fine!”

“You can sleep over at his house, but I need to give him a ride home now.” Javier was being extremely insistent, so I reluctantly got dressed, and went to pay our way out of the room.
Here’s another thing about Love Hotels: sometimes they lock you in once you’ve entered the room. You can open the door by feeding the appropriate amount of cash into a machine to settle your bill. This was the point where I realized that I was 5,000 yen short of leaving of the room, so I pulled out my credit card, not realizing it had expired 3 days previously. Japan is an almost exclusively cash-based economy, and it had been a while since I’d used my credit card. Now I was screwed, and my cougar pride precluded me from asking Rodrigo if he had the cash. I worried that if I called the front desk to tell them I didn’t have enough cash, they might call the cops. I dialed the numbers of people I knew might still be at the party in a panic, until I reached my friend Lola.

“Hi. Do you have an extra 5,000 yen you can loan me?”

“Oh my god, are you okay? Did that guy rob you?”

“No, no, I’m fine! But I don’t have enough cash to get out of the love hotel!”

“Hold on. I’m on my way.”

Lola remembers it this way: “I remember standing on the corner by train station, waiting for a carload of South Americans. I think I watched out the car window and told you via cell phone what I saw, and you gave directions according to that and then I passed the directions on to the driver. We communicated in a mix of Spanish and Japanese.”

Ah, the good old days before smart phones.

Lola arrived some minutes later, and slid the necessary bills under the door so we could escape. That is true friendship, my friends. We crammed ourselves clown car-like into Javier’s jalopy where three of Rodrigo’s friends were awaiting us.

I spent the rest of the night at Rodrigo’s tiny studio apartment (which was about 50% occupied by giant stuffed animals), and made my train ride of shame home the next morning after he left to play futbol.

Two days later, I got a phone call from Javier’s number.

“Rodrigo wants to talk to you,” he said.

“BIANCA! I LOVE!” That was the full extent of his English vocabulary, but it was exactly what I needed to hear after months of heartbreak in the Japanese dick desert.

Javier helped us make plans for the following weekend, and I started Portuguese lessons a few days later.


See what’s happening with Bianca here.



  1. evevawter says:

    I have this gorgeous coffee table book on love hotels, I am obsessed with them! So jealous of your Japan adventures.

    • Eve, is it Love Hotels: The Hidden Fantasy Rooms of Japan? I almost ordered it on Amazon because the forward is by Natsuo Kirino, and I have to read everything she writes. And because, hello, love hotels.

  2. “Come on my house.” I can’t stop laughing.
    Also: I want, no, NEED a spaceship bed. Like, yesterday. My bed is crap anyway.

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