As intimacy is blurred, nudity releases eroticism into the air, while something in the back of your head reminds you the intruder is not far away. It won’t be long before he’s gone, so you and your lover can finish what you started.
You stop listening to your parents’ voices telling you to strive for a successful future. You tell yourself you’re not a statistic, that your destiny is one of happiness, freedom, and sensuality. To hell with keeping secrets, to hiding life in a capsule. Sex is more than a whisper. That’s why you’re here in a backstreet hotel, to encounter the skin of another.
The line between the private and the public is gone. After all, how many of these Rabuhos, these clandestine love hotels, have you visited this past month? This past week? These kitschy neon-lit tacky palaces that everyone pretends they’ve never been to. But as much as your coworkers or classmates deny it, you know they’ve stepped foot in there more than once.
They’ve become a popular business throughout the country. You read about how there’s at least 35 thousand in Japan. Those hallways are full of boiling desire, and the rooms turn all those fantasies into actions. Everything is allowed. Everyone is welcome.
What if your parents are in the room next door? Would they want to forget all about their daily existence and have some time to reconnect, away from the trappings of the home? In this place, there is no societal-dictated submission. No one needs to revere anyone. Neither party needs to pretend to be functional. Age, social class, preference, orientation, none of this matters here.
Couples can connect and be free in a safe space. But discretion is key: guests can purchase their stay from a machine, and if anyone wants a service, there’s a small window that preserves their anonymity.
Who invited you? How did you meet the one taking the pictures? You’ve gathered some information yet you don’t speak the same language.
Zaza Bertrand is from Belgium, yet her keen interest in the melding of the public and the private led her to dive into this side of Japanese culture. At first she began waiting for people outside these love hotels to propose a trade: she would pay for a maximum of three hours stay, while the lovers would allow her to capture them at their most intimate.
The vagrant rejections made her reframe her method. She began contacting the would-be models online. She’d request suggestive pictures, and those who wanted to participate would respond enthusiastically. Then they’d set the details to be part of this project.
The body is at the center, not just because it appears in the photographs, but because the language barrier made the physical into the only form of communication. One snapshot was able to keep a sensation alive forever.
Alienation and loneliness. Public and private. Dark and light. Secrets and appropriate behavior. Japan’s dichotomies are as real as those extravagant hotels that are willing to do anything to satisfy their guests.
Translated by María Suárez