Sexy "Pink Real Estate Funds" are Viagra(TM) for Japan's Love Hotels
Japanese love hotels enjoy 200% occupancy rates, but crushing mortgages suck up renovation cash needed to attract carnal clientele. Enter "pink real estate funds", white knights who know that when it comes to sex, there's never "no vacancy".
Times are hard in the love hotel business, no pun intended. Japan's famous pleasure palaces collectively rake in nearly 3 trillion Yen in annual revenue, yet are slowly being crushed by the weight of massive mortgages negotiated in the midst of the 1980s "bubble" building boom. Although most of the 27,000 or so love hotels in Japan are still wildly popular as discrete meeting places for carnally-inclined couples, their owners find themselves chronically short of cash needed to keep the hotels fashionably trendy. Several foreign and domestic investment funds have recognized an opportunity here, and this has led to what many say is the second coming of "pink real estate".
Love hotels serve a vital purpose in Japanese society. Many of the 20-somethings who frequent them live with their parents in tiny homes and apartments, making sexual encounters problematic. In consideration of the unique needs of their typically short-term guests, love hotels have been purposely designed to make love by the hour as stress-free as possible. Curtained driveways shield incoming and outgoing cars from view, for example.
Once inside, guests may never look another human in the eye - rooms can be selected and paid for electronically. And what rooms... the more legendary love hotels are dolled up in extravagant themes such as outer space, sports, undersea and that all-time Japanese obsession: Hello Kitty. Convenience features include lavish AV systems, spa-style bathrooms and fully stocked "adult accessories" vending machines. Sounds expensive but hey, you're only paying by the hour, right?
The trouble is, the trend-conscious clientele who frequent love hotels prefer those with new & improved room fittings and the cost of completely renovating a single love hotel room can range up to $1 million. All well and good in the roaring 80s when credit flowed like water, but not today. That's when niche funds like MHS Capital Partners, an offshore private equity firm, and Tokyo's Global Financial Support Co. (GFS) investment group come in and securitize them. At 8.4 percent annual returns, pink real estate funds are arousing interest in individual and institutional investors alike. Property managers can now update their facilities to attract even more business in what is generally recognized to be a recession-proof industry.
To paraphrase W.C. Fields, rumors of the demise of the love hotel phenomenon are greatly exaggerated - and places like Tokyo's "love hotel hill " are expected to retain their sex appeal for both natives and tourists. We have seen the future, and it is pink!
Some of the photographs of the above Love Hotels are from a series of Fantasy Love Hotels photographs taken by Misty Keasler and featured in Wired.
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