By Tara A. Devlin
Content Warning: This book contains discussion of suicide
I’m sure you’re heard of Aokigahara in passing over the last few years. Maybe about 5 or 6 years ago, the stories about bodies found in the depths of the forest began to take root in the international public’s imagination, which has spurred a good many dark tourists to the area. However, though it is true that there are bodies to be found amongst the trees, Tara A. Devlin took a deep dive into the history of Aokigahara and both the traditional and internet folklore surrounding it in order to better anchor your morbid perspectives in reality.
For those that don’t know Tara, she specializes in Japanese internet folklore, and often translates it for her website, Kowabana, and her podcast of the same name. I’ve been listening to her for years now, and the stories she finds are a special brand of creepy. They both educate on Japan while being relatable and unnerving. When she announced that she was researching a book on Aokigahara, I can’t say that I was surprised. I bought it as soon as I was able and it didn’t disappoint.
If you’re wondering about the suicides that have made the forest an international sensation, she has the answers for you. From what could possibly be the trigger, to how quickly the bodies decay, to the search parties that try to find them. But what I found most interesting about her research is just how much else there is in Aokigahara. The forest essentially shouldn’t exist at all, and it’s so hard to navigate that you need tape to act as your breadcrumbs. There are also ponds and lakes with unexplored caves that have caused divers to meet their end. But in addition to that there are beautiful ice caverns that tourists from all over come to see, and it’s in the car park of these sites that the suicide victims are last seen.
Being a folklorist, Tara also brings up several rumors that circulate on the internet about the forest. A few of these internet legends are surprisingly true, while others you can’t validate one way or the other. Those latter ones are the kind that get under my skin, and I had a dream the other night about a bear ripping open a tent and dragging me away. And for those who are into true crime, Aum Shinrikyo makes an appearance, as well as some stories about the yakuza using the hard-to-navigate forest as a body dumping ground.
This is a wonderful non-fiction addition to any horror fan’s bookshelf. It’s informative, clear, and provides you with facts that will get under your skin and haunt your dreams.
Review by Regina Caldart