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We decide to spend a long weekend in Kyoto last summer during my month-long assignment in Japan.  Gavin and Godfry are with me for two of the four weeks I'm there, working, while they explore Tokyo and the countryside.  I try not to think what-is-wrong-with-this-picture, as they come back to the hotel every night with stories of their adventures, what they explored and saw, what they ate, and the pictures to prove their accomplishments.

I love Kyoto.  The ancient capitol of Japan with its many, many shrines and temples, the Gion district where Geisha and Maiko can still be seen today.  The only thing "wrong" with the trip was the timing; mid-summer, a brutally hot summer, with high humidity and temperature in the upper 90s.  Beautiful, yes.  Hot, also yes.  We got to know the vending machines well and found many shops selling shaved ice covered in Matcha tea.

We stayed in the Gion district in an old ryokan (an old-style Japanese inn).  Beautifully tucked away behind long, winding lanes where I can only imagine Geisha walked through for centuries.  As we check in, remove our shoes and get taken down a long wooden hallway, through the back garden, up into a private room, all three of us are impressed.  It's simply beautiful.

We spend the day walking around and come back to a traditional Japanese meal, which we scarf down (only the three of us there so manners sort of fly out the window).  We wake up, bathe in the wooden tub barely big enough to hold Gavin (a small giant) and as one of the maids is cleaning up after our breakfast asking us why we didn't touch our coffee, Gavin calls out to me.

"Baby, can you call the front desk?"

I'm annoyed because I'm trying to explain to the maid who chides us for not drinking our coffee, we specifically said we didn't drink coffee on the little "what-foods-do-you-not-eat" card they gave us when they checked in.  Clearly, she's not understanding me, and I'm trying to be polite and not come right and say something about how evidently did not read the card, so when Gavin calls out again louder and with more urgency, I decide to focus on him and not the maid.



"Call the front desk."  I start walking over to him.  He's standing in front of the bathroom.

"Don't come over here."


"Baby, please just call the front desk."

"Fine!"  I snap back.

"And, what am I supposed to tell them?

"That there's a rat in the toilet."

I freeze.  No.  No.

I go to the phone and explain there is a rat in our toilet and could someone please come over to our room.  There is silence on the other end.  Did she not understand me?  The woman I'm speaking to finally agrees and five minutes later, I hear the wooden "geta" slippers clanking on the rocks outside our room.  Someone knocks, I slide open the door, and a man jumps out of the geta and walks over to the toilet, bowing his head to Gavin.  I walk back into the main room and stand, not knowing what to do.  I hear the man say, "Wow" and realize this is really happening.  He says he'll be right back and runs out the door.

"How big is it?"  I ask Gavin.

"You don't want to know."

"Yes, I do."


"Is it alive?"


Gavin stands in front of the bathroom door, his arms folded over his chest, as if guarding the....what?  The rat or the commode?  I, for once, don't know what to say so I pick up our bags and bring them out to the door.  We're leaving.  There's no way I will spend any more time in this room.

I hear the man's geta again on the stones outside.  This time he doesn't knock but slides the door open.  He has all kinds of tools in his hands and I realize I do not want to know what's coming next.

"Get back into the room," Gavin says.  "This is going to get ugly."

Pretty soon, I hear banging and flushing, followed by more banging and flushing and I have to work not to see my breakfast again.  Godfry is in the bath this whole time and soon pops his head out and says,

"What's going on out there?"

"Finish your bath and get out.  We're leaving," I say.


Oh, for God's sake.  "Please just do, sweetie.  I'll explain when we're on our way."

The poor boy is totally confused but I can hear him splashing around in the water and in less than five minutes, he's out.  The man is still banging away in the bathroom (how hard is it to kill a rat?!) and Godfry looks at the closed bathroom door guarded by arms-folded Gavin looking a lot like Mr. Clean.

"What the hell....." Godfry starts.

"Not now,"  I say.  I pick up the house phone and tell them we are checking out and that we will be at the genkan (front entrance) shortly.  "Could you please call us a cab?"  I ask as politely as I know how.

More flushing and finally the bathroom door opens.

"Get back," Gavin orders and again, I don't argue.  If there are rat guts or other things on the tools I don't want or need to see them.  The man leaves bowing again to all of us.

At the front entrance, Gavin goes up to settle the bill.  The matron of the ryokan comes up to me, I had seen her before, and bows low and says how sorry she is for the inconvenience caused by her inn.  I bow back saying something like "it's really all right" when it isn't at all.  I simply can't believe we had a large, live sewer rat in our toilet.  Then again, there's something absolutely hilarious about this.  This would have to happen to us.  We attract the strangest experiences, it seems.  Yes, I decide this is really very funny but decide I won't let the matron see that.  Gavin comes back tucking away his credit card into his wallet.  He cocks his head in a "let's go" gesture and we walk out to the taxi.  Six or seven ryokan staff, some in summer kimonos, others in housekeeping garb come out and bow to us.

In the taxi, Gavin says, "they took half the charge off the bill."  I look out the window and think, "half the charge."  Is that a lot of not enough and I realize I honestly can't decide.


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