Love Hotel Hill is one of Tokyo's quirkier places. Better known to the Japanese as Dogenzaka (道玄坂, The Hill Where the Road Begins -- although what road, I know not), the Hill is located in Shibuya and, as the name promises, it has the highest density of love hotels in Japan.

I used to go to Dogenzaka quite often, sometimes even twice per day... but not, alas, only due to my irresistibility to the local ladies, but because it was on my way home from work. (Boo!) If you walk from Shibuya to Komaba, a 20-minute exercise with little point unless you live at the other end and are too cheap to fork out 120 yen for two stops on the Keio Inokashira line, your path will pass right by Dogenzaka. But no need to retrace my steps all the way: just pick the leftmost of the three streets radiating out from Hachiko square and keep to the left at the next fork -- the street itself is named Dogenzaka and Love Hotel Hill is on your left, starting immediately after the Bunkamura department store. The hotels don't open out into the street though, so pick any of the little alleys going up the hill and wander around. Some of the hotels are little architectural marvels, with their castle spires and virtual drawbridges, while others tackle the other end of the kitsch spectrum with names like Let's Strawberry and megawatts of blinking pink and purple neon. It's perfectly OK to take a peek inside the hotel lobbies, most have displays of all their rooms right on the inside for this very purpose. You will also see a sign on the outside with two prices: the first is the price of a "rest", usually up to two hours, and the second is a "stay", or overnight. Dogenzaka's lovel hotels tend to be on the expensive side, most are around Y5000 for a rest and Y10000 for a stay (and these are starting prices, fancier rooms cost more). Still, the price is naturally for two, and thus quite competitive considering that an ordinary youth hostel might set a couple back over Y6000.

Alas, some humorless bureaucrat who is obviously not getting any has set out to make life more difficult for love hotels in Tokyo. Already hurting from the recession, new legislation has been enacted to tax love hotels more heavily and (effectively) prevent the construction of new ones. And just how do Japanese bureaucrats distinguish a non-love hotel from a love hotel, I hear you ask? The logic is as obvious as it is boggling: any hotel with a condom vending machine in the lobby is now considered a love hotel. Hooray for bureaucracy and STDs!

While the love hotels may be filled with wholesome family entertainment like pink Hello Kitty vibrating beds and fully-equipped S&M dungeons, there is no Kabuki-cho-type sleaze whatsoever in Dogenzaka itself. (If you insist, you can find some nearby at the amusingly named La Ruelle de la Lettre d'Amour -- the Alley of the Love Letter, and yes, that is French -- itself worthy of a writeup.) Instead, mixed in with the love hotels are a number of good clubs, and nearly all of them of the "underground music" variety. First and foremost in my book is Tokyo's first shot at a superclub, Womb, a featureless concrete monolith with a gargantuan three-story dance floor inside. Club Asia mostly features live eclectic (non-Japanese) world music with a weekly excursion into psychedelic trance, while ON AIR WEST and ON AIR EAST cater largely to fans of rock and alternative.

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