Yamaguchi City’s Onsen no Mori hot spring facility has a relaxation room with free manga to read. As is the norm in Japan, it’s run on an honor system. Just grab whatever you want to read off the shelf, and put it back when you’re done.
Unfortunately, last month someone didn’t follow the second half of that procedure, and 20 volumes (at that time every one yet published) of hit series "Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba" disappeared from Onsen no Mori’s library. It was a startling incident in a society where a commitment to common courtesy so often means that Japan can have nice things, and angry online comments urged Onsen no Mori’s management to contact the police, track down the culprit, and press charges.
The onsen itself, however, had a much softer reaction. In public statements, the management avoided calling whoever had taken the manga an outright thief, instead saying that someone had “accidentally taken [the manga] home” and asking that they kindly return them, even quoting a line from "Demon Slayer": “When someone is about to lose their way, let’s all work together to keep them on the right path.”
It’s hard to imagine that anyone could “accidentally” walk off with 20 volumes of manga (which works out to about 4,000 pages), and many would argue it’s naive to expect such a bold thief to return them. But Onsen no Mori’s faith in humanity has been rewarded, as this week all 20 missing volumes were returned by the person who took them (the books are stamped on the inside cover and along the bottom edge with Onsen no Mori’s name, so they know they’re the same copies).
In a statement posted to Onsen no Mori’s website, the hot spring’s manager, Takeo Umebayashi, explained: “On October 13, all volumes of 'Demon Slayer' were returned by the person who took them. We also received a letter of apology, in which the person said ‘I was planning to return them after I was done reading them, but when I saw all the commotion I had caused, I became scared and couldn’t [do it right away].’”
Many would call that a convenient and flimsy excuse, but Onsen no Mori, as usual, took the high road. “Even with all of the negative things being said about what the person had done, they were courageous and returned the manga to us,” Umebayashi said. He went on to muse that social media has “endless potential,” but also “sometimes becomes a blade that hurts people,” saying:
“Looking at negative reactions [in social media] to how we were handling the situation was psychologically painful. I think the person who took the manga felt the same way, and we caused them emotional pain.
I have a request to make of everybody. Would you be so kind as to no longer speak ill of the person who took the manga?”
Umebayashi says he realizes that this request, again, is something that not everyone will agree with. Nevertheless, with the manga returned and the temporary thief having expressed remorse, the onsen manager wants to put the sadness and anger in the past, saying “I believe the person has reformed.”
On a side note, even before the return of the stolen comics, multiple manga fans from around Japan had sent in their own "Demon Slayer" volumes as donations to Onsen no Mori, with the facility receiving some 140 books.
As a matter of fact, they now have so many that they’ve added some dedicated "Demon Slayer" shelves to hold them, decorated in the distinctive checkerboard pattern of main character Tanjiro’s cloak.
As a result, Onsen no Mori has gone from having no "Demon Slayer" manga to possibly the best place in Japan to find a copy, and the way they’ve forgiven a former foe after an earnest effort at redemption makes for a manga-ideal ending to the story.
Related: Onsen no Mori
Sources: Onsen no Mori via Livedoor News/Oricon News, Chugoku Shimbun
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