Writing Design: Into the Woods


“Ultimately, though, it’s living people that frighten me the most. It’s always seemed to me that nothing could be scarier than a person, because as dreadful places can be, they’re still just places; and no matter how awful ghosts might seem, they are just dead people. I always thought that the most terrifying things anyone could ever think up were the things living people came up with. ” ― Banana Yoshimoto, Hardboiled and Hard luck.

After the speculative ‘bubble economy’ collapse in 1989, Japan witnessed a ‘lost decade’ of financial failure and slowing growth (Zieleniger, 2006). The traditional conservative cultural system – the ‘well oiled conveyor belt’ that forces people into a rigid circle of life which carries boy from preschool – college then straight to workplace while expecting girls to stay at home and become a good housewife or a wise mother, has proved to bring generations of Japanese down to depression, adjustment disorder and mental exhaustion each year (Zieleniger, 2006).

During this period, “hikikomori”, a social phenomenon, rose to popularity. “Hiku” means pulling, “komoru” means retiring. Pulling in and retiring, this term is used to address more than one million Japanese young adults, whom literally shut themselves away from the sun and avoid every social interaction by staying in their house for an excessive period of at least six months. These isolates, despite taking great pains to barricade themselves, were receiving no or little help from their own parents and the society. As in Japan, “the nation of secret hideaways and discreet indirection”, nothing seems more hidden from view than the universe of hikikomori inhabit (Zieleniger, 2006).

My key text was taken out of ‘Hardboiled & Hard luck’, a book written by Banana Yoshimoto in 1999. The book is consisted of two novellas, featuring the stories of two modern young Japanese women who are dealing with loss, emotional isolation – a recurring theme in Yoshimoto’s work. As an emerging contemporary writer during the time, most of Yoshimoto works has a great reflection of the society. Her characters, often through some traumas, bare isolation due to the impenetrable barrier between them and the public sphere. I found this particularly relevant to what a typical hikikomori would experience. Hence, from ‘Hardboiled & Hard luck’, I decided to write a piece of magical realist literature, in which, the protagonist will choose to live in a different world – the magical realism and stay away from the controversial definition of reality.

Nothing is more hidden than the universe of a hikikomori (Zieleniger, 2006). As it is considered a disease, parents are ashamed of their children; they cannot let their neighborhood, or even relatives know about their withdrawn son, they are afraid of even being seen venturing into a local clinic (Zieleniger, 2006). Hence, I wanted to write from a hikikomori’s world view, in hope for a revelation, an enlightenment; as I wrote with an inspiration from the study of hikikomoki, Yoshimoto’s stories and the magical world of plants and trees. I tried to write alternative different forms of text: email, diary, dialogue and poem, to create a vision of the present time between two parallel worlds (of the protagonist and her mother), and most importantly, to examine the way language – as a way of communication – can represent, and resonate with one’s stage of mind.


Tokyo, 2004

3:15 PM, 29th February 2004

I imagined myself walking in the woods yesterday, so I woke up today getting myself ready for a trip to Aokigahara [1] – my most favorite place in the world – an evergreen forest one hundred fifty five minutes and two buses away from my house to the southeast suburban of Tokyo. A bit far, but I try to visit it as much as I can while my body still functions properly.

Tokyo was being all foggy and gloomy as it usually is in late February. From top to toes, I tried not to let any strand of wind sneak through the layers of fabric that I had wrapped myself in. Settling down in the last bus, I wondered if they had woken up.

Mizuki kept asking why I would always go alone, “You are kind of weird”, she said. I am used to being called ‘weird’, and I know that she was just trying to fulfil her responsibility as my mother – she did what a mother normally does – sending a hundred of text messages and voice mails to explain why I should never be by myself in the woods at dusk. It suffocates me sometimes, her appearance, her voice, all that noise and vibration, so I just put my phone on silent and burry it at the bottom of my backpack.

My mother is one of the wisest people I have ever known in my life. She reads a lot (that perhaps is the only thing we have in common), she speaks two or three foreign languages and she seems to have the answer to everything. There is one thing she doesn’t know though, that is, whenever I am in Aokigahara, I am not alone. In fact, I am never alone.

“No, you aren’t”

Oak, pieris and maple are my friends. Birds and beetles are my neighbors.[2]

“Yes, we are…”

They always know whenever I pay them a visit. From the edge of the forest, they would send me the warmest welcomes as I walk my way in on the road that gleams like water under the moonlight.

“You are back, Moriko. How have you been?”

Aokigahara to me, is a scared hideaway – a secret place where I can escape from the buzzing capital of Tokyo, from the people whom I know or used to know, from my own very thought and feeling.

“I am glad to see you all again. I brought a new playlist and some tea. Now, where were we?”  


[1] Aokigahara, also known as Sea of Forrest (Jukai), is the most popular places to commit suicide in Japan (Brennan, 2012).

[2] These are the common trees and animals found in Aokigahara. Aokigahara is very dense. Located at the foot of Mount Fuji, it has an extremely uneven and thin surface of lava and soil, hence, causing the plants to spread their roots out over the ground as if they were animated (Association, 2011).




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