No privacy. Paper-thin walls. Living spaces so crowded that when the music of love is playing, everyone hears the rhythm of rapture.

That’s the scene in jammed neighborhoods across Japan, Okinawa and South Korea. And that makes conditions ripe for love hotels — a legal and common Asian institution where couples rent space for romance.

But hook-up hurdles also are faced by American servicemembers in the Pacific.

At Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, members of the opposite sex are banned in barracks rooms between midnight and 6 a.m. At K-16 Air Base in South Korea, a new policy restricts some soldiers from having members of the opposite sex in their rooms at any time.

And hundreds of Navy sailors live in communal berthing areas on the ship where an overnight guest couldn’t fit in their racks — much less sleep over.

“rest,” or stay?

Love hotels are legion in these privacy-challenged countries. The 37,000 in Japan alone generate about $35 million a year, said Vitamin Miura, a consultant who runs Love Hotel Total Research Office in Tokyo.

What separates love hotels from the Ho-Jo or a Hilton — besides compelling names like “Hotel Rambo” — is that you can either rent a room for a “rest” or stay the night.

There are also the amenities — bathtubs built for two, spacious beds, flat-screen televisions and karaoke — that make rooms a cheap foray into a “four-star” atmosphere, said a Department of Defense civilian in Yokosuka. She didn’t want to be named for fear of professional repercussions.

She visited the “White House” in Hayama, modeled after the president’s digs, she said.

“You know your room by the blinking light on the door, and you pay using a machine in the room. Ours had a huge aquarium behind the bed, karaoke machine and a huge bathroom,” she said. “The Oval Office was taken.”

But while servicemembers may lack room to rendezvous, love hotels aren’t a cost-effective answer, said Airman Patrick Lamping.

Most sailors he knows use a friend’s house to get intimate, he said.

Airman Apprentice Andrew Cardwell agreed, saying he has heard how sailors use Hotel Goddess — a love hotel across from Yokosuka Naval Base with a replica of the Statue of Liberty perched atop it — as a spot for one-night stands. This gets pricey if you have too many, he said.

“If you have a girlfriend, great — if not, there’s no reason to be there unless you want to lose your paycheck,” Cardwell said. “I have some friends that might as well hand their check over.”

checking it out

Americans are so curious about Okinawa’s Route 22 strip of 20 or so love hotels that they arrange private tours through the bases, said Marine Corps Community Services Tour worker Marti Skelly.

“We had 39 people on our last tour,” Skelly said. “Most want to figure out how the process works so they can return by themselves.”

Love hotels are the epitome of discretion. Most people will not see anyone while checking in or out, nor will a passer-by see the customers. Rooms are chosen by touch screens, and most have their own parking garages with doors that close behind the customer and shield cars from view. Payment for the room will open the door again, Skelly said.

About five percent of the love hotels on the island have heated swimming pools in the rooms. Many offer adult toys, contraception — even costumes, if one’s proclivities tend toward dressing up like, say, a French maid.

While almost anything goes at love hotels, there are rules. Many hotels will allow only two people to a room and won’t rent to homosexual couples, said Kei Sasaki, who cleaned rooms in a Kita Kurihama love hotel for a year and now works at Yokosuka Naval Base.

But many servicemembers have neither stayed in love hotels nor heard of them.

Servicemembers in South Korea are required to be on base by midnight on weekdays and 1 a.m. weekends. This limits love hotel excursions to those on leave passes or temporary lodging.

In hearing about love hotels, Camp Red Cloud soldier Pfc. Aaron Gilmore, 20, found the idea of an elaborately themed love hotel interesting. But he said it’s probably not for him since he and his girlfriend have decided not to have sex before marriage.

Spc. Dan Kear, 21, once stayed with a few buddies at a decidedly low-rent hotel, but he wasn’t sure if it qualified as a love hotel. He didn’t remember much about the place, only that when he woke up he saw “the biggest shelf of pornographic material I’ve ever seen.”

Because they look normal from the outside, Americans may unwittingly walk into love hotels, said Sasaki.

“I saw this American couple come through the doors with a ton of luggage — they were back out on the street in a few minutes after they realized what happened,” Sasaki said.

pleasure principle

Experienced or not, most Americans find love hotels compelling as a cultural phenomenon and a viable place to get away for a few hours.

“In theory, I think they’re great — I’d rather have sailors in a room somewhere than doing something illegal on the street,” said Chief Petty Officer Jason McGlasson.

Still, Lamping is “sticking with a regular bed,” and neither Army Staff Sgt. Sam Norris nor his wife, Cecelia, in Okinawa have any need for love hotels, they said.

“We have our own at home,” Cecelia said.

“And you can quote us on that,” Sam chimed in.

Stars and Stripes reporters Megan McCloskey, Erik Slavin, Tim Flack and Hana Kusumoto contributed to this report.

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