I blame Douglas Adams for what happened during our last two days in Tokyo. It’s because of him that we always take towels with us whenever we travel. Sure, the Westin Tokyo has towels, but we were unsure of what to expect from the budget ryokan on our side-trip to Kyoto. As a result, we lugged a couple of our best bath towels half way around the world “just in case”.

Ultimately our towels sat on a bench in our room for the entire trip (except for our Kyoto trip, where, of course, we ended up not needing them).

During our frantic packing spree the evening before our departure we noticed our towels had vanished. Apparently the cleaning crew had swept them up with our bed sheets and sent them off to be washed. Upon making this discovery I made what I thought was a harmless inquiry to the front desk. It didn’t take me long to realize that I should have kept my mouth shut.

The service desk passed my inquiry on to the management, and the cleaning crew, and the cleaning company that washes the Westin Towels, and the Tokyo police department, and possibly several international law enforcement agencies. They generally set out a dragnet over the whole of Tokyo looking for our towels.

How was I to know they’d see this as some kind of national shame?

At first I was amused by the situation. It must have been the first time in history that a hotel had stolen towels from its guests. It didn’t take long for my amusement to fade as I spent my last night in Tokyo fielding a series of mind numbing phone calls from various levels of management within the Westin chain. All of them in very broken English. All of them extremely apologetic. Each caller more regretful than the last.

At first they called every hour or so. Then, as our check-out drew nearer, the phone began ringing every five minutes.

“Mr. Krausen, [not my name, but I wasn’t about to point that out] we are looking for your towels right now! We will not rest until they are found. We are most sorry!”

Meetings were held. Half the cleaning staff was dismissed, the other half committed ritual suicide and died in shame.

Finally, just before our departure, it all came to an abrupt end as the manager of the Westin arrived at our door to personally apologize and promise that a mistake of this sort would never happen again. There was some strange ritual involving incense and sake, and then we were presented with two gift boxes which we were assured contained “only the most high quality Westin bath towel”.

At that point it appeared that the Towel Incident had finally come to an end. A very strange way to spend our final hours in Japan.

And so we flew back to Pasadena with our gift wrapped carry-ons (in addition to our normal carry-ons). I used to wonder who those people are who bring gift wrap packages onto international flights. What could they possibly be thinking? Thanks to the Tokyo Westin I actually became one of those people.

Upon our return the packages got stacked in a corner while we unpacked, decompressed, and generally tried to get back to normal after half a month in Japan.

After a week we had a discussion about the boxes in the corner. My wife favored hiding them in the closet fully wrapped as last minute emergency gifts. I favored opening the boxes, taking a shower, and using the towels to dry off. There was actually a surprising amount of debate over what we should do with those boxes.

Eventually something strange happened — my wife agreed with me. So we opened the boxes to take a look at our new towels. Except it turns out that they weren’t towels at all. They were bathrobes with the Westin name embroidered on them.

Now don’t get me wrong. I appreciate those Westin bathrobes, but we’re still missing two of our best towels. Instead we have two new bathrobes that say “Westin Tokyo”. That way we’ll always know where we lost our towels.

I suspect this story will have at least one more chapter. I’m expecting a special delivery package from Japan any day now.

Originally published on PlanetTokyo.com