Bleak Scenes

Abandoned places, lesser-known attractions, and assorted oddities

Motel Sun River


The Motel Sun River was a modest eight room love hotel (or love motel) built alongside a quiet back road in Kyoto Prefecture. I read about it on a Japanese web site, and explored it on a cool, damp, cloudy day in December 2015.

The road which climbed past the motel was a narrow, crumbling affair, little more than a lane. An area of hillside next to the motel had been stripped of vegetation, and was eroding onto the road below. I was driving a rather large van which belonged to someone else, so I chose to park some distance away rather than drive down the poorly maintained road.

The establishment's signs were long gone, and I didn't find a single object which bore its name, so I can't even be entirely sure that it was called the Motel Sun River. The Japanese web sites refer to it as such, and I have to assume that they're correct. Although most rural love hotels are basically motels, the term is not commonly used in Japan. The only other "Love Motel" that I've seen was the Motel Akatsuki in Kanagawa Prefecture.

I noticed the remains of an old Mazda rusting away in a field across the road from the motel. I thought it was rather beautiful in a way, with moss growing on the bodywork and engine, and ferns taking root in the seats. Nature was doing its best to reclaim the car, but it will never completely succeed, at least not until plastic-eating bacteria evolve.

The Sun River didn't have a courtyard or even a driveway, so the carports opened directly onto the road. I've never seen this arrangement at any other love hotel. The carports were cheaply made, with roofs of plastic sheeting supported by light wooden frames. At least they had doors, so the guests' cars would have been discretely hidden. Most of the carports had at least partially collapsed.

The guests would have entered their rooms directly from the carports, which is the usual arrangement at rural love hotels. I noticed a hand-painted sign in one of the carports which advertised that the room had a video deck. It's been decades since that was a feature worth mentioning.

The guest rooms were amongst the most minimal that I've seen in a love hotel. They all had the same L-shaped layout, with the bathroom in the front, next to the carport, the bedroom in the back, and a small entry hall, vanity, and toilet in between.

Each room had two doors, one opening into the carport, and another opening onto a rear alley which communicated with the office. After the guests entered their rooms, someone from the office would probably have come to the rear door to discretely accept payment.

The process of decay was well advanced, and I didn't see a single intact floor in any of the guest rooms. In some entry halls the floors had almost disappeared, allowing me to walk safely on the ground beneath. In other places I had to tread carefully, standing on the frames or directly on the concrete foundations. I was wearing a sturdy pair or steel-capped work boots, so my feet at least were well protected.

The cottage at the uphill end of the motel was starting to collapse, so I made no attempt to enter it. I think the denuded hillside above may be gradually subsiding onto the cottage and pushing it over.

The wall frames and roof joists of the other cottages all seemed to be intact, so I wasn't too worried about a room collapsing on top of me. From what I've seen, the downstairs floors are usually the first part of a wooden building to decay, presumably because they're the most exposed to moisture. The floors will typically collapse well before the rest of the structure becomes unstable.

The bedroom carpets were probably synthetic, so they had remained intact as the floors rotted away beneath them. As the floors fell away, the carpets were left draped over the remains of the rotten joists and floorboards, with toppled furniture and assorted debris scattered on top. The resulting surface would have been difficult and dangerous to walk on, and almost impossible to stand a tripod on, so I had to photograph the bedrooms through the doors and windows.

The rooms didn't seem to contain much in the way of luxuries, just a bed, a few chairs, and a refrigerator. The décor was bland and not very interesting. They would have been adequate for their intended purpose, but anyone who wanted a little glamour or sophistication would have been disappointed.

Even the baths would have been a little small for two people. The bathrooms did however feature large padded mats, which would have been useful for some types of aqueous play.

Apart from broken mirrors I didn't see many signs of vandalism, but someone had removed the metal bathroom fittings. They've been missing from most of the abandoned hotels that I've explored, so they must be fairly valuable for scrap.

The rear alley would once have given the staff discrete access to the guest rooms, but by the time I visited it was largely obstructed by assorted debris.

A two storey building towards the middle of the motel probably housed the manager. Its ground floor was in a similar state of decay to the guest rooms, but upstairs it was in better condition. A small single storey building at the downhill end of the motel looked like it could have been a laundry.

I looked for a calendar to provide some idea of when the motel was last open, but unfortunately I didn't find any.