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|Blood Ties(Blood Coven Vampire,book 6) by Mari Mancusi|
“Right. So where are we going to stay then?” She grins. “I scored you an awesome ryokan.” “A re-what?”
“A ryokan. It’s like a traditional Japanese B and B. They originated back in 1603, during the Edo period.”
“Please tell me they’ve renovated since then...”
“Come on,” she says. “Grab your bags. We need to catch the next bullet train into town. It’s like a forty- five-minute commute.”
“How many days have you been here again?” I ask, impressed by her working knowledge of a city whose language looks like a five-year-old’s scribbles to me.
“Only two,” she confesses. “But I’ve been reading about Japan my whole life. It’s only the coolest country ever, you know. So much culture, history...”
She’s not fooling me whatsoever. “Um... Since when have you cared about culture? Or history, for that matter?”
She grins saucily. “Touché. To be honest, it’s really all about the cosplay.”
About an hour and a half later, we finally figure out our way via subway to the ryokan, which is nestled in a traditional urban Japanese neighborhood called Asakusa. The neighborhood is a fascinating mix of old and new and I can’t stop staring at everything we pass. The main drag, I suppose, is not that different from New York City—except for the billion bicyclers crowding the streets—but behind it, the streets are narrow and crowded with a mixture of curio shops and tiny sushi bars alongside smoky karaoke booths and loud clanging “pachinko” parlors—where, according to Rayne, Japanese businessmen go to gamble. Neon lights blaze, intermixed with softer Japanese lanterns. There is also an obscene amount of vending machines, selling not only things like cigarettes, but girlie magazines, lingerie, and alcohol. Which should make things seem seedy. But actually everything’s so freaking clean and bright it’s hard to smell any degradation. For example, though there are zero trash cans anywhere in sight, there’s also not a scrap of trash on the ground.
“Asakusa is best known for its Sensô-ji temple,” Rayne, my tour guide, explains, as we take a right onto a narrow street, then an immediate left. “So you get a mix of tourists and neighborhood people here.” She looks down at her map, then up at the building in front of us. “We’re here!”
I have to admit, the ryokan is charming on the outside, like a quaint apartment building nestled on a quiet residential street. On its front porch is an old- fashioned rickshaw and I wonder if anyone actually still uses those today or if it’s just a tourist thing like the bike rickshaws you see everywhere in New York and other cities.
We step inside the front door, into a small but cozy lobby, and are greeted warmly by the Okami, who is basically the landlady—or manager of the place. In halting English she welcomes us to the ryokan and has us sign the guest book.
“First time in Tokyo?” she asks kindly, making me immediately feel at home.
“Yes,” I admit. “All of us.”
“You need something, you let me know.”
After we sign in, she hands me a long wooden bar with a key attached, much like the bathroom passes we get at school, and introduces us to an elderly Japanese gentleman who, she says, will show us to our room. We head up a tiny elevator and down a hall decorated with ancient-looking artwork and sculptures and stop outside a sliding wooden door. I grin at Rayne. This is pretty cool, I have to admit.
“Please. Your shoes,” he instructs.
We take off our shoes and slip into wooden sandals. Then he slides open the door to our room. I’m exhausted at this point and cannot wait to throw myself onto a big cozy...
“Where’s the furniture?” I demand as we step into a room not much bigger than the size of a double bed. Which would be fine, I suppose, if there were actually a double bed there. Instead, there’s only a low wooden table on a woven straw floor, surrounded by multicolored cushions. I crane my neck to search out an actual bedroom—thinking maybe Rayne sprung for a suite—but all I see is a tiny sci-fi-looking toilet in the next room.
“Thanks,” Rayne says to the host. “I think we’re all set here.” He bows and makes his exit.
“What the hell, Rayne?” I demand, looking around the room.
“I told you, this is a ryokan,” my sister reminds me. As if that should make me feel better. “It’s a traditional Japanese—”
“Yeah, yeah, I get it,” I interrupt grumpily. I’m tired and frustrated and can’t believe there’s no place to sleep. “But why no bed? Didn’t traditional Japanese people have to get a good night’s sleep, too? And why is it so tiny?”
Rayne rolls her eyes. “It’s a small island, Sunny. They’ve got to make room for everyone.”
“Whoa, that toilet is cool,” Jayden says, coming out of the bedroom. “There’s, like, a water fountain button on it.”
“It’s a built-in bidet,” Rayne informs him. “So I hope to God you didn’t drink out of it.”
“And where’s the shower?” I demand, peeking into the bathroom.
“Um.” Rayne bites her lower lip. “Well, traditionally they used public baths...”
Oh my God, I am seriously going to kill her.
“Look, it’s not that bad,” she protests. “You move the table aside when you want to sleep. And there are futons—here in this closet—that you pull out and sleep on.” She looks up at me, her eyes shining. “Come on, you have to admit, it’s kind of cool, right? Like you’re living in authentic ancient Japan.”