Authors: Carolyn Keene
out the window of the taxi, which was crawling through traffic along a congested Tokyo highway. “Am I seeing things, Nan, or is that a huge pink castle in the middle of all those skyscrapers?”
Nancy Drew brushed back a strand of reddish blond hair and peered over George's shoulder. “It's definitely a huge pink castle,” she replied. “The sign either says âThe Princess Hotel' or âPickles Sold Here.'â”
George whirled around to Nancy, looking alarmed.
“Hey, I'm just kidding,” Nancy said with a grin.
“You had me worried,” George murmured. “You know, Drew, I'm counting on you to get us through this trip. The only Japanese phrases I
managed to memorize before we left River Heights were for âHello,' âGoodbye,' âThank you,' and âI have a really bad stomachache.'â”
“A lot of Japanese people speak English, so we'll do fine,” Nancy reassured her.
The girls fell silent as they turned back to take in the view. Nancy had been in Tokyo before, but its crowds and hubbub still amazed her. As they approached the heart of town, high-rises and storefronts were jammed together on every available inch of land. Hundreds of neon signs flashed brightly colored messages in Japanese and English. Peering out at the narrow streets mobbed with people, Nancy wondered how cars ever managed to move through them.
George pointed at a large patch of green in the distance. “Hey, a park,” she said. “Do you think that could be where Midori and Ken are getting married?” Nancy and George had come to Japan to attend the wedding of Midori Kato, who'd been a close friend during her year as an exchange student at River Heights High School.
“I think their park's in a different part of Tokyo,” Nancy said. “And it's not just any parkâit's the grounds of the Hamada Imperial Villa. It used to be the summer home of a prince, but now it's owned by the Japanese government.”
“Someone's been memorizing her travel guide,” George teased, her dark eyes twinkling.
Nancy blushed slightly. “Midori told me about the villa when we talked on the phone last week.”
The cabdriver abruptly braked to avoid colliding with the car in front of them. He spun around and apologized to the girls, who were clutching their seats.
“No problem,” George said. Then she whispered to Nancy, “I wish all cabdrivers were this polite.”
She fished a comb out of her purse and began fluffing out her short dark curls. “So Midori and Ken are getting married at an imperial villa, huh? The Katos must have awesome connections to line up a place like that.”
“I think it's the Nakamuras who've got the connections,” Nancy said. “Midori mentioned that Nakamura Incorporated is one of the biggest investment-banking firms in the country, and that it's got lots of clout with the government. Ken's dad used to run it, but after he died, his Uncle Seiji took over.”
George tucked her comb back into her purse. “Ken works for his uncle, right?”
Nancy nodded. “I can't wait to meet him. He sounds like a great guy. Midori told me he sends her flowers once a weekâisn't that romantic?”
George nodded. “I can't believe this is an arranged marriage. It's like something out of the nineteenth century, isn't it?”
“But it's very common in twentieth-century
Japan,” Nancy said. “Besides, Midori feels very lucky. She's nuts about Ken.”
George elbowed Nancy. “Don't tell me you wouldn't be mad if your dad suddenly announced that he'd picked out a husband for you.”
Nancy shook her head as she tried to imagine it. “Ned wouldn't be very happy about it, either,” Nancy said. Ned Nickerson was her steady boyfriend.
The taxi crept to a halt at a gridlocked intersection. Nancy leaned back in her seat and sighed. “This ride is endless, isn't it?”
“Speaking of endless, check out our cab fare,” George said in a low voice. She pointed at the meter, which was clicking away. “I may be slow in the yen-to-dollar conversion department, but if that number gets any higher, we're going to be living on rice and water during our entire vacation.”
It was after five o'clock when the cab pulled up in front of the Sakura Ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn tucked into a shady residential street in one of the older sections of Tokyo. Midori's parents had selected it and had made the girls' reservations.
“We're finally here!” George cried as they got out of the cab.
was a narrow, three-story wooden building. A line of large flat rocks were laid across
the tiny front yard as a walkway to the entrance, which was framed by a pair of trees. The sliding door was partially open.
Nancy and George stepped into the foyer, which was cluttered with rows of shoes of all shapes and sizes. Nancy pointed to a rack holding dozens of identical orange slippers. “I guess we wear those inside.”
Just then a middle-aged woman came rushing toward them. She wore her silvery black hair in a bun at the nape of her neck, and her wide face was dotted with pale golden freckles.
She smiled graciously at the girls.
” she said. “Welcome. You are Ms. Drew and Ms. Fayne? Please allow me to show you to your room. I am Mrs. Ito, the manager.”
She led them upstairs to a large Japanese-style suite. The floor was covered with a straw tatami mat. The living room area, which consisted of a low lacquer table, dark blue floor cushions, and a television set, was separated from the sleeping area by paper and wood shoji screens. The only decoration was a calligraphy scroll on one wall. Under it were some white chrysanthemums in a shallow black dish.
“Please make yourselves comfortable,” Mrs. Ito told Nancy and George. “I will get you some
âtea and seaweed-covered rice crackers.” She left, closing the sliding door softly behind her.
George peeled off her jacket, frowning. “Did she say
-covered rice crackers? I think I'll pass. They sound kind of slimy.”
“The seaweed is dried, silly,” Nancy said playfully. “You should at least try them.” She glanced at her watch. “It's almost five thirty. Midori wanted us to drop by to meet her parents when we got in. She said their house is just a few blocks from here. Okay?”
George's face lit up. “Great. If we hurry, we can get out of here before Mrs. Ito comes back with theâ”
Just then there was a light knock, the sliding door opened, and Mrs. Ito entered with a tray. “Tea and rice crackers,” she announced cheerfully.
Nancy winked at George. “I'm sure the Katos can wait a few more minutes,” she said merrily. “Come on, Fayne, dig in.”
â¢Â â¢Â â¢
Nancy paused at the intersection of two quiet, tree-lined streets and stared intently at the piece of paper in her hand. “We turn right here. Midori said that it was a charcoal gray house with wooden shutters.”
“I think I see it,” George replied. “Come on, Nan.”
As they walked, Nancy noted that most of the houses in Midori's neighborhood were stucco, with tiny yards enclosed by bamboo fences. Behind some of the fences she could make out
laundry drying on clotheslines, flapping gently in the June breeze.
“I have to admit, I'm a little nervous about seeing Midori,” George said. “It's been a while since we saw her.”
“Don't worry,” Nancy said, hooking her thumbs into her jeans pockets. “When I talked to her on the phone, she sounded just like she did in high school. You knowâcracking jokes, gabbing a mile a minute.”
“That's our Midori,” George remarked, smiling. “Did you ask her about why she dropped out of art school?”
Nancy frowned thoughtfully. “She didn't mention it, although she did grill me about the art scene in Chicago. We mostly talked about her weddingâwhat she's wearing, things like that. I couldn't get a word in edgewise, she was so excited.”
Two little girls popped out from behind one of the bamboo fences. “Hello,” George said to them in Japanese. They looked at each other, giggled, and ran off down the street.
“So much for my Japanese,” George said to Nancy, shrugging. “Anyway, tell me. What's Midori wearing?”
“A kimono,” Nancy replied. “It's a family heirloom. I can't wait to see it. Bess made me promise that I'd take a picture.” Bess Marvin was George's cousin and Nancy's other best friend. She'd been invited to Midori's wedding, too, but
couldn't make it because she was in Maine with her parents.
George stopped in front of a gray house. “This must be it, don't you think?”
Nancy nodded, then went up to the front door and knocked. A moment later it was opened by a short woman with shoulder-length black hair and wire-rimmed glasses. She was wiping her hands briskly on a white apron.
“You must be Nancy and George,” the woman said in nearly perfect English. Nancy noticed that she spoke very quickly, just as Midori did. “I'm Toshiko Kato, Midori's mother. Please come inâyou must be tired after your long trip.”
She led the girls to a spacious Japanese-style living room. A slim gray-haired man with a closely cropped mustache and beard was sitting at a low lacquer table, reading a newspaper.
He snapped the paper shut and put it down. “Ah, Midori's friends from America,” he boomed. “I'm Tadashi Kato. Please, please, have a seat.”
Midori's mother poured some green tea into brown earthenware cups and passed them around. “How was your flight?” she asked the girls.
Nancy accepted a cup of the tea and inhaled its pleasantly bitter fragrance. “It was long, but we're glad to be here. We wouldn't have missed Midori's wedding for anything.” She glanced around. “Is Midori here? We're dying to see her.”
Toshiko rose from the table and opened the sliding door. “Midori! Your friends are here!” she called out.
A few seconds later Nancy heard footsteps, and Midori walked in. She was just as Nancy remembered her, with a small upturned nose and black hair that fell softly around her face. She was dressed in white cutoffs and a paint-splotched T-shirt that said “Senagawa Art College” in English and in Japanese.
“Midori!” Nancy cried out, jumping up to hug her. George did the same.
“Hi,” Midori said quietly. She let the girls hug her, then joined them at the table without another word.
An awkward silence followed. Nancy cleared her throat and said, “Our inn is lovely. Thank you for making the arrangements, Mr. and Mrs. Kato.”
“It's no problem,” Toshiko said. “We've known Mrs. Ito for many years. She used to baby-sit for Midori and her sister Mari when they were littleâisn't that right, Midori?”
“What?” Midori murmured, raising her eyes from the table.
Nancy studied her Japanese friend. Her face was pale and her eyes were red. Had she been crying? Nancy wondered.
George, who obviously noticed the same thing, raised her eyebrows at Nancy, then turned to Midori. “Have you been working on your art?”
she asked brightly, pointing at Midori's paint-splotched T-shirt.
“Not really,” the Japanese girl replied tonelessly, and stared into her cup of tea.
Nancy frowned. Her instincts told her that something was very wrong with Midori. She'd seemed fine on the phone the past week, but now she was acting as if her best friend had died.
Nancy decided to bring up a subject that was sure to cheer Midori up. “So, Midori, are you all ready for the big day? We can't wait to meet Ken.”
To Nancy's surprise, her words had the opposite effect on Midori. She raised her head suddenly and stared at Nancy, her face deathly white and her amber eyes wide with anguish.
“Midori?” Nancy said in alarm. “Did I say something wrâ”
Before Nancy could finish her sentence, Midori had burst into tears. She sobbed deeply for a second, then rose shakily and ran out of the room.