Bleak Scenes

Abandoned places, lesser-known attractions, and assorted oddities

Hotel Don Quixote


The Swinging Seventies, Japanese Style

The Hotel Don Quixote was located on a quiet road in Kinugawa Onsen, next door to the Hotel Century. The site was heavily overgrown, but most of the front wall, a few of the buildings, and the remains of the sign were clearly visible from the road.

There was a large, weed-covered, obviously disused lot next to the Don Quixote, with a single large corrugated iron building, which may once have been a workshop or a machinery shed. I had a look inside, but it was completely empty and devoid of interest. The driveway of this property was a convenient, if conspicuous parking spot.

On one of my visits, just as I was loading my gear into the car before leaving, an older Japanese man pulled up next to me in a tiny truck and asked what I was doing. I replied truthfully that I'd just been having a look at the abandoned love hotel. The expression on his face suggested that he thought this was a bit odd, but he didn't seem particularly bothered about it and drove away without saying anything further.

The photographs below were taken in November 2013, April 2014, and January 2016.

The forecourt had found a second life as an illegal garbage dump. I sometimes wonder if charging a fee to dispose of large items legally is really a good idea.

The driveways were thickly covered by decades of fallen leaves and branches, and overgrown with weeds, bushes, and small trees. Patches of asphalt were visible here and there, but in most places it was completely hidden from view.

Like the Century and most other rural love hotels, the Don Quixote consisted of separate cottages, each with an adjoining carport, with curtains to hide the customer's cars from prying eyes. The cottages were built in various shapes and sizes. Four of them were two-storey, with sitting rooms downstairs and bedrooms upstairs. The architecture was gaudier and more interesting than the Century, with a half-hearted attempt at a vaguely medieval theme. There were imitation parapets on the front wall and a few of the cottages. It was kitschy, but in a good way.

The character Don Quixote in the eponymous book was a minor country gentleman, about 50 years of age, living at the start of the 17th century. He went mad after reading too many fanciful books of chivalry, and decided to become a knight-errant. He set off in search of adventure on his worn-out old horse, clad in a suit of armour that had belonged to his great-grandfather, and only dimly aware of reality. One result of his madness was that when he stopped at an inn he usually took it to be a castle, despite all evidence to the contrary. The décor of the Hotel Don Quixote was thus ironically appropriate, like an ordinary hotel as it would have appeared to Don Quixote's addled mind. Perhaps the designer had read Don Quixote and cleverly chose this look for deliberate irony. It's also possible that the designer had never read the book, but had a vague idea that Don Quixote was a medieval character, and thought that the hotel should therefore have a few medieval touches.

Time had not been kind to the Don Quixote. The windows had been removed, and some buildings had lost much of the sheeting from their exterior walls, leaving the wooden frames exposed to the elements. The two-storey buildings in particular were in a terrible condition. Two of them had already partially collapsed, and the other two looked ready to do so at the slightest provocation. The frames were rotting and falling to pieces, with only a few dubious timbers holding them up.

One of the two storey cottages looked reasonably sound from one side, so on my first visit I entered it and took a few photos, going as far as the landing half way up the stairs, which contained the bathroom and a small personal sauna. When I noticed just how decayed the frame was I decided that I was taking too big a risk, and went no further. On this occasion my instinct for self preservation was stronger than my curiosity, and I didn't even try to enter the other remaining two storey cottage.

The single storey cottages were in better condition – at least they showed no signs of imminent collapse. I could feel their rotting floors flexing underfoot however, and my footsteps were sometimes accompanied by unsettling creaking and cracking sounds. In at least one cottage much of the floor had already collapsed. Since I wouldn't have had far to fall if a floor did collapse, I deemed it an acceptable risk to cautiously enter the more intact cottages and take some interior photographs.

The interiors were covered in decades of grime, often strewn with garbage, and awkward and unpleasant to work in. I had to tread carefully on the wobbly floors, and couldn’t even stand near my camera when I took photographs. Even with my LED panels I had to use exposures of around a second, and the slightest involuntary movement might have shaken the camera and blurred the shot. I had to put the camera in self-timer mode, set up each shot, press the shutter release, and exit the building while the camera did its work. This obviously slowed my progress.

Although dirty and decayed, the rooms were largely intact, with most of the furniture and fittings still present, although they had often been scattered about. Most of the cottages had similar internal décor, featuring rotating beds with mirrors around one side, and a mirror on the ceiling. A few of them had small saunas. One unusual room was decorated in a jungle, or perhaps caveman theme. It was easy to imagine what the place would have been like in its heyday. The kitschy, gaudy, rather ostentatious style appealed to me. The cottages would have been cosy, comfortable places to temporarily escape the stresses of modern life.

As Spike Japan noted, the TV sets and décor indicate that the Don Quixote and the Century date from the 1970's. It's harder to establish when they closed. Spike guessed sometime around 1980, based on the fact that by the time he visited in 2010 some buildings had already decayed to the point of partial collapse. According to The Misuterareta Blog one of them closed in 1989 and the other in 1992. I asked the author how he got the dates, and he told me that he remembers seeing calendars in some of the buildings.

On my first two visits I didn't come across any firm evidence to determine when the hotels closed, but I thought that they probably stayed open into the 1980's, and a closing date of 1992 was not implausible. I believe that the TV sets were of late 1970's vintage, and it seemed unlikely that they would have been purchased a mere couple of years before the hotels closed. It's more common for failing hotels to circle the drain for years, gradually becoming more decrepit, before finally going out of business. As I've seen in other abandoned buildings, timber structures can decay to the point of collapse surprisingly quickly once water gets in. It's also possible that the decay started before the hotel was abandoned if maintenance was neglected in its final years of business.

When I revisited the Don Quixote and the Century in 2016 I made a more thorough search for anything with a date. I found a 1992 calendar in the Century's office, which is pretty firm evidence that it did indeed close in 1992. I didn't find any calendars in the Don Quixote, but I did find some telephone directories. The newest of them was for 1989 to 1990, so Misuterareta was probably correct that it closed around 1989.

The Don Quixote was the most interesting love hotel ruin that I've explored to date. Sadly, nature is slowly but steadily destroying it. Before many more years have passed the rotting frames will give way, the cottages will crumble into the forest floor, and this interesting cultural artifact will be gone forever.

When I revisited the Don Quixote in January 2016 I expected to find that the remaining two storey cottages had finally collapsed, but rather surprisingly they were both still standing.

Since my previous visit I had perhaps become a bit blasé about the danger of unstable structures, and had also shed at least 10kg of body weight, so I decided to risk a look inside the best preserved of the two storey cottages, at the rear of the property.

Equipped with a little micro four thirds camera on a lightweight tripod, and a few lenses in a shoulder bag, I very cautiously entered. The front of the ground floor was a sitting room, with a sagging, collapsing floor. I judged most of the floor to be too dangerous to walk on, so I didn't venture far from the entrance. (I took the first of the photographs below from outside, through a hole in the wall.)

A short staircase led to a landing which contained the bathroom area. I climbed up to the landing, which appeared to be relatively sound, although the bathroom floor had collapsed. Another short staircase led to a bedroom upstairs. These stairs were also in reasonable condition, so I very carefully made my way up to photograph the bedroom. I did at least stay close to the stairs, to avoid putting weight on the decaying frames at the front of the structure.

Fortunately the cottage didn't choose that particular time to collapse, and I emerged without a scratch. Although I got some interesting photographs, I couldn't say that entering the cottage was a wise decision, and I would strongly advise anyone else against doing the same. The frame gets a little weaker with each passing day, and one day it will come crashing down.

I didn't get around to exploring the hotel's office until my third visit in January 2016. The building contained all the amenities that you'd expect in a small house, so the manager possibly lived on the premises, as is common practice at rural love hotels.

The Mystery of the Coin-Operated Horses

My most bizarre discovery at the Don Quixote was these equestrian toys. I found one of them outside on my first visit, and another inside one of the cottages when I returned in 2014. I lost some sleep trying to figure out what they were for. They had coin boxes, so they must have done something when you put your money in, but I have no idea what. I couldn't find any joints that would have enabled them to move.

Some Google searches on likely phrases found a few photographs that other people had taken of the outdoor specimen, but no answer to the mystery. I can only guess that the seats vibrated, which seems rather boring for such a fancy looking piece of equipment. If anyone can shed some light on the mystery I'd like to hear from them.

What ever happened to rotating beds?

I had read about rotating beds before I visited the Don Quixote, but to this day I've never seen one in working order. The Don Quixote was the first place where I saw them, although I've since seen them in a number of other abandoned hotels. They look like they would have been a nice touch, adding some much-needed glamour and excitement, so I became curious about why they have disappeared. A quick search on Google revealed that many Japanese have been wondering the same thing. A generation ago they were apparently common enough to be symbolic of love hotel sex, but today they are all but extinct.

The word on the Internet seemed to be that they were banned as part of a revision to the Entertainment Law in 1985, which seemed like a pointlessly spiteful thing to do, even for a politician. What possible reason could there be for banning rotating beds of all things? After a little research I discovered a rather interesting and esoteric book called Law in Everyday Japan: Sex, Sumo, Suicide, and Statutes, which provided a solution to mystery. They weren't banned as such, but they were an indirect victim of the law.

Apparently various groups of people in the 1980's were opposed to love hotels, or at least wanted them to be more tightly regulated. (Some people just can't stand the thought of other people having fun.) They pressured the government to do something, and the government obliged in 1985 by revising the Entertainment Law to tighten the regulation of love hotels. New love hotels were to be subject to rather onerous regulations. Existing hotels were exempt, but would become subject to the new regulations if they rebuilt or renovated. Apparently determining what qualified as a love hotel for legal purposes proved to be rather difficult, and a number of narrow criteria were used, including the presence of rotating beds and ceiling mirrors.

Hotel operators soon realised that they could easily skirt the regulations simply by omitting a few such features, and registering as regular hotels. Virtually all new hotels chose to do so rather than be subject to the onerous regulations. As existing love hotels deteriorated to the point of needing renovation, they either closed, or ripped out the rotating beds and registered as regular hotels. It's possible that the Don Quixote was one of the hotels that closed as a result of these regulations.

The vast majority of love hotels in Japan today are therefore not registered as such. Business carries on as before, and the only obvious effect of the law is that the décor is blander than it once was. Apparently most of the customers don't mind too much. After all, when you want to make love, you're usually not too worried about the décor. The author even theorizes that the law greatly assisted the love hotel trade by conferring an air of legitimacy on such establishments.

This seems to be something of a recurring theme in Japan - regulate something, but make the regulations deliberately ineffective so that nothing really changes. I don't know if the politicians actually expected their attempt to regulate love hotels to have any effect. Perhaps they deliberately made the regulations easy to evade, so as to look like they were doing something without seriously impacting the love hotel business. No doubt many of the politicians involved liked to patronise such establishments themselves.