As a foreigner in Japan, I stand out. Tall, red hair, freckles… I’m like a lighthouse in an ocean of slim shiny dolphins. Dolphins with long black hair and lace skirts. I'd go to that aquarium.
The point is, in any other country, if I were trying to covertly do something even marginally shady, like fit five people into a taxi or cross before the light turns green, or enter a love hotel called Hotel PAMPLONA (capital letters non-optional) at three o’clock on a sweaty Osaka afternoon, I'd stand a chance at anonymity. Not so, here. I’m a regular bull in a china shop.
Love hotels pride themselves on their secrecy. The province of working prostitutes and those who can’t have sex at home because their pesky partners are always there, most hotels are designed so you don’t have to interact with a single other person. The one I entered was set up with a giant lit screen in the entranceway, where available rooms were depicted with a single photograph. You pushed a button, entered the lift, went into the room with a red light flashing above the door. Simple, sordid, secretive.
The illusion can be somewhat spoiled by the proprietor, who is SUPPOSED to stay behind her curtain, leaning out and recommending rooms. The pride of this particular place, I was informed, was the Mad Scientist-themed room, complete with bare basement, operating table, exposed pipes and restraints. People come over from all over to use this room, she said, nodding eagerly. I think she thought I was going to write an article on it.
I have some pride. I declined. I’m an English teacher working in Japan, after all, whose dignity has already been somewhat pressed upon by entering this establishment in the first place. No way was I going to sully the reputation of teachers all over Japan by succumbing to the allure of Dr Frankenstein role-play.
The room I did choose? A classroom.
I swear, I have never once had inappropriate feelings about my students. These are sixteen-year-olds I could pick up and twirl like a baton, who greet me so eagerly in the mornings I feel like the messiah, the Bringer of English, when largely I am the Bringer of Body Odour and Inappropriate Necklines.
There is little sexy about a classroom in which you spend your mornings repeating “sausage” for pronunciation purposes, until the word has lost all meaning; still less sexy about a space in which you are asked for an explanation of phrasal verbs and are forced to realize that your English degree really did prepare you for nothing at all, ever.
But this love hotel room came equipped with a large locker in the corner, desks lined up in rows, a blackboard and a clock. If I squinted I could almost see the teachers I worked with, lined up against the blackboard, inscrutable, the students, with heads bent (working).
Of course, the room was also generously equipped with things not usually found in high schools, including a vending machine loaded with beer and vodka and another full of lube, sex toys and red lace crotch-less panties. There was an enormous bed (complete with plastic mattress which I did not look too hard at) and an enormous jacuzzi. There were splash marks visible on the wall that probably were not the fruits of an adolescent food fight. And there were mirrors EVERYWHERE. So you can check how you look when you’re conjugating.
They say to keep your work life and your home life separate, and I’m sure there’s wisdom there. But after my experience of two hours in that particular room, I argue that there’s something to be said for rejoicing in the union of your work and sex life. Returning to school the next week, I endlessly corrected papers while sitting at a desk, the exact replica of which I had planted a crotch-less-panty-clad (more or less) arse upon. Writing on a blackboard takes on all new sentiment when you have clear memories of your boyfriend doing exactly that, butt-naked.
Anyway, that was my first love hotel, but certainly not my last. I thought I’d emerge feeling dirty but instead I was all Pretty Woman, thanks to a preponderance of skincare products, cosmetics and hair appliances supplied in the bathroom. The only proof that I’d been experiencing that particularly Japanese jaunt was the fact that I smelled way too good for a tourist on a hot April evening, and the pair of red panties in my handbag (which I later dropped on the floor of a pseudo-British pub, but that’s another story).