A Day In the Aokigahara Forest

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 Note: I want to mention that this post deals with the topic of suicide. Mental illness is a disease that comes with an unfair stigma unlike any other disease. Those that suffer, do so silently and often the way out is of their own accord. Please, if you feel this way talk, reach out and ask for help. It always gets better. Always.

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Over the years I have visited many spooky places across the country and all but a couple have left something to be desired. I am a big optimist and fall for folklore and urban legends because I want to believe. I love the stories of the lone tragic dead bride who is cursed to wander the halls of a Holiday Inn for all eternity. So many places jump on the ghost story wagon and when you’re a gullible tourist, like myself, you should walk away disappointed when you don’t get the willies even though almost all the stories are greatly exaggerated.

There is a place, however, which exceeds any folklore or spooky yarn. It is so dark and disturbing, Hollywood and authors alike have tried to capture the essence of this destination but have not even touched what I experienced. Even the Japanese people themselves do not talk about it and if you, as an outsider, bring this into conversation you will be met with judging eyes and uncomfortable body language. This is the place people enter and they do not plan to come out. It is said to be cursed and full of vengeful spirits that float on the periphery of the eye to lure visitors to their doom. It’s name is the Aokigahara Forest but is also called the Sea of Trees, Sea of Forest, Japan’s Demon Forest but is most commonly referred to as the Japanese Suicide Forest.

I spent an entire day inside this forest and even though I successfully found my way out, it has not left me. I do not believe it ever will.

The dark history of this forest goes back to almost twelve hundred years to a period of famine in Japan. To reduce the number of mouths to feed, families would abandon their elderly in the forest knowing they would have no way of finding their way out and would eventually die of starvation or exposure. In the sixties, a the book Kuroi Kaiju (Black Sea of Trees) became a very popular story which ends with the two lovers in the story committing suicide inside the forest. This is speculated to be the reason many people sought the forest to be a final destination and the book, itself, has been found many times inside the forest.

The Japanese government would post the numbers of deaths inside the Aokigahara Forest but after the financial crisis of 2008, there was a dramatic spike that only increased over the following years. After 2013, it was decided the stats were not to be published for fear it would only draw more attention to this macabre destination. As of this year the average is thought to be as many as two per day.

The Aokigaraha Forest is located at the base of Mt. Fuji and has the most insane topography because the floor is formed from lava flows from the volcano. The trees are lush and grow in twisted, odd formations and thick moss covers almost everything. It is so dense that in the middle of the afternoon it can feel like the middle of the night so shadows will not cast. And the sound! I have never to an outside location where your ears feel almost compressed and it feels absolutely deafening. Your breath sounds like waves of noise and you have to stop to get your heartbeat under control just to listen for anything in the woods. I can understand the what those who come here might feel. The forest surrounds you and every sense you have is taken over.

As you will see in the video below, I get turned around a few times. It is about fourteen miles of forest and most of it is almost impossible to get to. If you leave the path it can be extremely dangerous because of the lava flow rock floor, caves and deep pockets are everywhere. You could be walking through and drop into a cavern, never to be heard from again. Also, hundreds of years of fallen foliage makes traversing the area a knee-deep slog what could hide almost anything underneath. I left the trail only a few times but just feet away, I lost my orientation and came close to my way losing the trail. The forest and trees have a way of wanting to keep you.

I did my best to keep track of where I was through simple land navigation tricks like measuring my stride and footsteps to figure out how far in I was and how long it would take to get back. The trail map, however, was definitely not calibrated to exact distance so a few hours in, it was clear I really turned around. To add a little stress to the situation, I had a bus home scheduled for 7pm. By the end of the day it was a race to not only get out of the forest but get out as close to where I started from. Not easy when all the signs are in Japanese characters.

There were times when I could not tell if my mind, ears or eyes were playing tricks on me. I saw absolutely no one the entire time I was in the forest. There were no hikers, workers or even the tourists with a curiosity like myself. I moved with a quickness to see as much of the forest as possible in the six hours I was in but occasionally I stopped dead in my tracks because I heard people having conversations off the trail. Knowing the dangers of leaving the trail I would quickly look in the direction I thought the voices were coming from and there was nothing. This seemed to happen more frequently the longer I was in the forest.

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They say, if you follow ropes in the Aokigahara, it will lead to something. It does. I made the decision not to publish completely what I found to show respect for whoever was there, the Japanese culture and the topic of suicide. I did not find a body but I did see an abandoned tent, blankets, empty pill cases and looped rope tied high in a tree. It was the most sinking feeling of utter hopelessness I have ever felt. And I don’t think that feeling will leave me for a long time. That’s all I have to say about that.

Eventually I made it out of the forest, though it was a little stressful finding the right stop that still had an active bus associated with it. When I realized the one I waited for was not an active stop, I had to go back into the forest to make it a stop that had a bus. That’s when my mind was the most paranoid and I really felt hundreds of eyes on me as I moved with a quickness to escape the dark. I can still distinctly remember hearing people out there but I know there were none.

Well, spoiler alert, I survived. I found my way out and made it home but even as I write this, I know that forest came with me. I think about it all the time and the feelings that permitted the trees, the ground and the silent air. Even I write this, I can hear that split second chattering out beyond the trails. There is something there. That I know.

I kept this video pretty raw because any music or editing would detract from what was happening. I am a bit annoyed by the GoPro Hero 5 I was using because apparently there is an audio port I couldn’t see so there is a lot of accidental finger rubbing over the microphone. To be honest, that camera is a pretty big disappointment for the cost.

I hope you get at least 1% of what I experienced from this video. It’s shaky and raw but hopefully it can bring you a little closer to the Sea of Trees: The Aokigahara Forest. With much respect to the culture of the Japanese people, thank you.

 

 

Halloween Sodas!

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Holy cats! This one took a while to shoot, edit and re-edit. When you are so amateur to video reviews and Final Cut software you have to watch hours of YouTube tutorials from an eleven-year-old, it’s going to take a while for anything of substance. If you are not easily offended, you should definitely give this one a watch.

Probably what I love most about the Halloween season is the hunt. I love exploring all the shops come August and see what new additions there are to the market and no item better represents the macabre creativity like soft drinks. Hear me out.

Sure the name brands change their cans to include silly monsters but nothing beats the private little companies and their novelty Halloween beverages. There are no giant analyst meetings with board members judging if “Frankenstein Cola” will ruin people from their brand forever or stocks at risk before the end of a fiscal year. No, just fun people concocting strange brews to bottle and label with spiders and witches. I love it so very much and when you find them, it’s a race to social media to spread the spooky fun. What a weird little world I chose to live in.

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This year, World Market is the keeper of the faith with five new flavors over the previous years to include Lemon Drop Dead and Blood Orange from Jones Soda Company. We have Dr. Jekyll Pepper Elixir, Flying Cauldron Butter Beer, Salem Sister’s Green Apple, Cheshire’s Vanishing Cream Soda, and last but not least, Ghoulish Grape (It’s Fang-tastic!). All have their own little spooky magic and I taste them all for you with some help from beyond.

Come watch me summon the new Halloween Sodas that are exclusively at World Market from now until Halloween.

Dollar General Halloween Finds!

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This past week I have been on the hunt for the latest Halloween items that seem to be crawling their way out of the back storage rooms of particular retailers. Usually by mid-September we are in full swing, but there are a few stragglers. LOOKING AT YOU, TARGET! But other stores always seem to be right on time like a trusty Seiko. Dollar General has their shit together every year and 2017, it is hitting all the feels.

I went there last night to get floss and absolutely left without it because I was drawn into the Halloween aisle like the ‘Falcon to a non-moon. There were so many little odd trinkets for a buck, I just couldn’t leave there without getting a few to make a stupid video. And brother, this one is a doozy. It did come out a little grainy because of the spooky mood-lighting that didn’t quite translate but you will get the point.

I cover a few neat little items that are Dollar General exclusive and even play a little dress-up. I am in late thirties and yes, playing dress-up this time of the year is acceptable. Please watch and “oooh and aaah” at the cheap treats that will most likely disappear forever in my bottom desk drawer.

Shortly after I filmed this I went to remove the witch paint and had a little scare because as hard as I scrubbed, it wouldn’t come off. Like, not even turning the wash cloth a tad greenish. Nothing! I had to use a little more elbow grease than anticipated and I can tell you that today, I feel like I had a pretty nice peel. Smooth as a baby’s butt!

IMG_0135Eventually it came off, for the most part. I still have a slight green hue but all-in-all, I am back to normal.

Hope you enjoyed the Dollar Store Halloween Finds for 2017! Up next is Big Lots! I kind of broke the bank there which you will see this week.

Do something spooky tonight!

Spooky* Sweet Heat Starburst and Skittles

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I have bantered around whether or not to include the new Sweet Heat additions to the Starburst and Skittles family for about a week now and judging by the apparent lack of Earth-shattering releases like the past few years (i.e. Frute Brute, Ecto Cooler, black bun-ed Whoppers…) I figured, what the Hell? After all, I did find them under the Halloween banner for a new release in Wallgreens. That should at least qualify it for something?

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I heard about these from the annual Chicago Candy Faire this past year because I always make sure to keep my finger on the pulse of new items coming around because when original Bonkers make their return, I will repent because I know the rapture is near. Until then, all bets are off to include pants.

Wrigley Inc. debuted the new flavors of Skittles and Starbursts to include the addition of “heat” or spicy to compliment the sweetness. It is a bold move because it’s tough to imagine a 10-year old eating something that is confusing to the palate especially when he or she is raised on a steady diet of mac&cheese and chicken fingers. They are definitely targeting an older market which I kinda like in a candy company.

A little inside baseball, these were not supposed to be released until December of this year. In my mind I would like to think these are an attempt to nudge their way into the Halloween season although there are specific Halloween versions out of both candies. It’s a strange flavor which I think belongs in the world of strange and unusual and that is what Halloween does the best. Right, Winona?

So how do they taste? Well, let’s see starting with Starburst, the obvious winner of the two and don’t you dare disagree!

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There are four flavors which are “Fiery Watermelon”, “Flamin’ Orange”, “Strawberry Mango” and “Pipin’ Pinapple”. My many years of eating ridiculously hot food and two broken noses, I must say, telling these flavors apart beyond the obvious flavor notes like “this is definitely watermelon and not strawberry” is kinda lost on me. I will tell you that there is a definite tingle near the end of the taste test proving the “heat” is actually there. Looking on the package I was curious to see what the element was in the ingredients which is responsible for this faint buzz you get. All I could really see and assume was an uptick in the amount of citric acid. If we ever figure out time travel we can proudly inform the Colonials that in the future we eat acid. That should scare ’em.

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The Skittles were a little less pronounced with the flavors and heat. These had five new flavors: “Lemon Spark, “Fiery Watermelon”, Sizzlin’ Stawberry”and “Flamin’ Orange”. Again, nothing too nuts about these other than the feeling you wished you didn’t eat a handful of Skittles without washing the table pepper from your hands. The same normal tropical fruit taste with a little “ting” in the back of the throat.

All-in-all, not a bad little macabre treat to the mix. I will definitely be adding these to my 2017 Halloween additions this year because as of the first week of September, it’s looking a little lackluster. I am still waiting the big over-dominating item that will hit but not getting hopes high. That’s okay, tough, because this year’s Halloween Hell Show is shaping up to be pretty epic. The first week is always a bit wonky especially with apocalyptic storms and work emergencies, but believe it or not, I anticipated a lot of these contingencies. “Not the first rodeo”, said the clown.

Given a scale of 1-10 I would say a 5 on taste and an unintentional 7 on the Halloween fun. If you see them, give them a try and if you think I am underselling the heat, let me know! I am curious and so is my doctor.

Stay tuned tonight for this year’s first Halloween video review! It will scare your pants off.

 

Monsters of Japan!

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If you follow me anywhere on social media you’re probably aware of my recent trip to Tokyo, Japan. It was part business and part adventure but everywhere I go, in the back of my head, I look for some tie-in to the Halloween Hell Show. I had a list of mandatory places I had to visit thanks to some travel sites and google searches like “weird Tokyo”. Brother, it did not fail. As beautiful and wonderful as Japan is, it does not disappoint in the world of strange. In my case, that is close to godliness.

My goal for this trip was to keep everything 100% Japanese. By that I mean, no English-speaking or Western themed anything. If you are to embrace the culture you should not find yourself waiting inline at McDonald’s, no matter how strange the fries look. This was the first time, really, I would be traveling to a foreign country without a combat load and a rifle so I wanted to experience the people, the way of life and how Japan truly is so I can become a richer, more well-rounded human being.

So in my quest to become more well-rounded I learned of a giant Godzilla head on the top of a building and I needed to find it. Godzilla is as cultural to Japan as guns and apple pie is to the U.S. so when you’re there, pay your respects to the big lizard!

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In order to go anywhere affordably in the Tokyo area you have to travel by train. Looking at this map, you can see it takes some getting used to just to get from one district to the next. And the crowd of people! Oh the congestion of the locals! Image the end of a Cubs game and trying to leave Wrigley Field. That is pretty much what it is like in the train stations only everyone is moving with a purpose and 90% are looking down at their phones. It’s pretty amazing how it all works out so well.

This Godzilla Head was in the Shinjuku which was on the opposite side of the perimeter of where I was staying. I got the appropriate ticket which was about 460 Yen and flowed with the masses down to the tracks. The tickets go in a terminal and are quickly spit out the other side which will unlock the small door barrier. There are hundreds of people moving fast behind you and on occasion I accidentally tried to go to the wrong rail line which was met with a red light and a loud buzz. It’s pretty embarrassing because you can hear the sounds of coconuts knocking together which are heads of people as the quickly moving line comes to a dramatic halt.  I learned a little bit of Japanese and “Sumimasen” was used the most frequently which means “excuse me”. Oh lord, did I say that often.

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When you get of the train you are dumped somewhere in the city and you will have no orientation to where you are at or which way to go. I have found that hitting a coffee shop for free wifi is a must because you can map out your destination. I used my iWatch because though it is not connected to the net, it will still track your movement and map so you can guide to the destination. Just don’t get too concerned trying to understand names of streets as you walk to the destination. Just turn where the watch says turn and put your faith in its accuracy. Also, it helps to have a friend google stuff for you and send pictures of your objective. I still have a military way of thinking and doing certain things and “eyes in the sky” is always a lifesaver.

So, when you arrive at the destination you think that is it? Oh, my friends, you are not. The city of Tokyo and surrounding districts are so packed they have to build upward. Where ever you think it should be by western logic, you should remove that from your hard drive. The looks of this Godzilla Head was massive and it was on a skyscraper so how could I not be seeing it? Patience and persistence rule the day when it comes to touring around Japan. It’s there but you just have to let it happen and soon you will find what you are looking for.

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I rounded the corner of a shop and holy shit in all it’s glory, the famous nuclear fed Kaiju of the East was peering down below with its monstrous claws grasping the side of the building. Gozilla!

I have to be honest, I was a little stunned even though I had seen pictures. This was definitely my kind of thing because ridiculous structures and pop culture make life that much more tolerable. And it wasn’t enough that you could get a real feel for what Godzilla would look like peering down at you but you could actually go up to the Toho Hotel and sit in the Godzilla lounge and drink Saki while ogling at the monster! This is what dreams are made of, right here!

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I made my way up the elevator guided by signs that had the head of the beast with arrows directing which way to turn. When I arrived at the 16th floor I was in total euphoric bliss. Beyond the hotel lobby was a beautiful lounge with the gigantic scaly back of Godzilla right outside on a patio deck.

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In order to go outside where the statue was you needed to either be staying at the hotel or a paying lounge guest. In my best Japanese, I asked to be seated at the bar. Yeah, it was only 11am but what the Hell, I am a lost American who just likes his monsters. I cozy-ed up to the bar and tried to hide my nerdgasms as I ordered a beer. I couldn’t help but sit and stare at one of my favorite movie monsters that was, in my mind, in the flesh. It was real and it was to scale. The bartender seemed a little annoyed as he delivered my Tiger beer and removed the hot towel and chopsticks but I told myself he probably deals with this at least nine times a day.

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It was made even more awkward that the World War II movie, Patton, was playing on the bar TV. I tried to hide my snickers because my perception in life is very much like The Truman Show.

I looked around and there was no Americans or European tourists, to my surprise. I thought this would be more of a tourist destination than it was but I soon reminded myself who I am and not all people traveling abroad make special trips to such sights. Sad, I know.

I finished my beverage, got up and bowed to the bartender with a gracious “arigatōgozaimashita” which is the most polite way of saying thank you. It seems every time I made this gesture it would be reciprocated tenfold. He saw my gaze outside and led me to the glass door and with a smile, he made the motion that I was allowed to go on the deck to see the Godzilla up close and personal! What pal!

Here is a little video so you can see for yourself!

A little known and strange fact about me; I get really weird when I stand next to huge structures. Yeah I can look down from Half Dome mountain and I have jumped out of planes many many times but stand me up next to a fifty story structure and it’s like putting tape on a cat’s back. I can’t explain it but I have always been this way. So, this is sixteen floors up and the hotel is another forty floors above that. This is the perfect situation for me to reenact the scene in Small Wonders  when V.I.C.K.I. smokes a joint. (Hey Sommerjam, if you start the Podcast “You’re Weird” back up, I would be a perfect guest”)

It’s a cool salute to an iconic creature that is as Japanese as the Samurai. As you can see there are plaques for the different eras of Godzilla and even some of the famous baddies like Mothra. Every few minutes there would be the famous roar but not at an Earth shattering volume. This is a hotel, mind you. I found out later there is a Godzilla suite which is a huge room full of movie history and Kaiju themes. If you have the 100,000 Yen it would probably cost, go for it! To me, this little destination trip made an already amazing trip perfect!

When I got my full Godzilla fix, it was about time for lunch. Knowing my Halloween Hell Show could use some more Japanese flair I decided to seek out another monster theme. Off to Shibuya in search of the Kawaii Monster Cafe!

This one isn’t as Halloween unless you take it as possibly sinister in nature. By that I mean, something cute can oftentimes border creepy. This, in my mind, was creepy and also, impossible to locate! Again!

Back on the train, Shibuya was the next stop below Shinjuku and again, you end up in the middle of a vast metropolis with thousands of hurried people moving like a school of fish. I navigated my way to the address and again, passed it a dozen times because when you have a five themed room bar/restaurant with animatronics and pumping techno music, you don’t expect it to be on the fourth floor sandwiched between a beauty salon and a Gap.

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The coolest thing I noticed about Tokyo is it is very much like an open platform game. You can wander all over the map and always find something amazing in the oddest places. The main streets were packed with speed-walking people moving in all directions but you can take a right turn down an alley and it is like you just entered another universe. Almost no one is around but there are cool little shops and restaurants lining the narrow road. It’s very foreign based on the three rule of business mindset “location location location”  but in Japan, if you want it, you know where to find it. I guess? Anyway, it is always a welcome break from the people-highway on the main streets. And you need that break when trying to find anything!

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I finally managed to locate the Kawaii Monster Cafe and proceeded up to the entrance where I was greeted by two small Japanese girls in…some kind of space age-Alice In Wonderland-cat motif. You had five themed rooms to choose from ranging from an under the sea bar to an acid trip looking Goldilocks and the Three Little Bears room. In her best english she pointed to each one and I told her which ever one she suggested. So, I was led to a Candy Land Hell. (That’s not the real name but it might as well be)

This room has to be seen to be believed. It was a never-ending spectacle of random shapes and colors. It felt very much like The Twilight Zone: The Movie and I was in the kid’s house who could make any wish come true. At any second, a demon cartoon rabbit might just spring from behind a booth. I was seated behind a young Australian couple who looked like they might have been on their honeymoon. That’s when this weird feeling started sinking in. I am a middle-aged man sitting by himself in a Candy Land themed restaurant with fuzzy monsters and tiny Japanese girls in costumes. This is not a good look for me.

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To visit there you had to order food and a beverage. All of it looked pretty bad or so loaded with sugar I would collapse into a diabetic shock before even reaching the elevator. I opted for the multi-colored noodles and a beer. Oh yeah, ice cream is mandatory. And your choice of blue, green or pink in color.

I sat there trying to take the insanity in but before I could get my mind wrapped around it, a booming noise hit followed by a high-pitch Japanese girl shout something over the speakers. Then the music started…

Behold.

(Sorry for the shakiness. The GoPro skills need some practice)

Yeah, there is a giant space monster that roams around and hugs people. I stared at my beer as to not attract any unwanted attention. I already looked a bit too “Stranger Danger” and I didn’t want to shine it on.

I finished eating and stole some chopsticks to remember my weird lunch at the Kawaii Monster Cafe. Next time I think I will opt for the Under the Sea bar. I made my way out but not before capturing a quick tour of the room for you.

So, that was my Japanese monster afternoon. I have a few other Halloween themed tales from this past trip to Japan including one that I will never forget. That’s a big one so stay tuned to the 2017 Halloween Hell Show because you will not want to miss that one.

Thanks for being here!