Aokigahara is known throughout the world as the “Suicide Forest”, and is a 35-square-kilometer spot located at the northwest base of Mount Fuji in Japan. The forest, called “the perfect place to die,” contains a large number of icy rocky caverns, some of which are popular tourist destinations.
Locals say they can easily spot the three types of visitors to the forest: trekkers interested in scenic vistas of Mount Fuji, the curious hoping for a glimpse of the macabre, and those souls who don’t plan on leaving!
The thicket of trees is very dense, making the place very compact and silent at the limits of the improbable. The forest is historically associated with the “yūrei”, the ghosts of Japanese mythology, and has sadly become the preferred destination for many Japanese who decide to end their lives (in 2010 were over 200 people who tried to kill themselves in Aokigahara).
Japanese spiritualists believe that the suicides committed in the forest have permeated Aokigahara’s trees, generating paranormal activity and preventing many who enter from escaping the forest’s depths. Complicating matters further is the common experience of compasses being rendered useless by the rich deposits of magnetic iron in the area’s volcanic soil.
The undergrowth consists mainly of volcanic rock, and is difficult to break with hand tools such as picks or shovels. The forest itself is very dense, and you can easily lose it if you leave the official paths. For this reason, in recent years, hikers and tourists who love trekking have started using a plastic tape to keep track of the path and avoid getting lost.
After passing the paths leading to the main tourist attractions such as the “Ice Cave” and the “Wind Cave”, the first kilometer of the forest is littered with tapes and other waste left by tourists, despite attempts by officials to remove them. After the first kilometer to Mount Fuji, inside the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, the forest appears to be in better condition, with little garbage and no sign of human presence.
The forest is the most popular place for suicides in Japan, and the second most popular in the world after the Golden Gate in San Francisco. The statistics are variable, since the 1950s, Japanese businessmen have wandered in, and at least 500 of them haven’t wandered out, at an increasing rate of between 10 and 30 per year.
Recently these numbers have increased even more, with a record 78 suicides in 2002. In 2003, that record was beaten with a number of 105 bodies discovered. The last year of the statistics was 2010, when 54 people died in the trees of Aokigahara . Since then the Japanese authorities have discontinued publishing exact suicide numbers in order to avoid making the place even more popular.
Inside the forest, there are numerous signs that invite people to reflect on their actions, to talk to someone and to competent people. Due to the vastness of the forest, desperate visitors are unlikely to encounter anyone once inside the so-called “Sea of Trees,” so the police have mounted signs reading “Your life is a precious gift from your parents,” and “Please consult the police before you decide to die!” on trees throughout. This does not deter to people from committing suicide in this dense forest. Each year dozens of corpses are found by volunteers who clean the woods, but many are forever lost in the very thick woods.
A local police officer said, “I’ve seen plenty of bodies that have been really badly decomposed, or been picked at by wild animals…There’s nothing beautiful about dying in there.”
But why did she become “The Forest of Suicides”?
Aokigahara is a forest as there are many others in Japan, but here takes place the novel of the popular Japanese writer Seichō Matsumoto Kuroi Jukai, who in the forest made die two young lovers in the novel Nami no tō, (Tower of the Waves).
However, contemporary news outlets have noted the recent spike in suicides in the forest, blaming them more on Japan’s economic downturn than on the romantic ending of the novel, which revitalized the so-called suicide forest’s popularity among those determined to take their final walk. In fact the novel culminates in Aokigahara as the characters are driven to joint-suicide.
It is also true that, already in the nineteenth century, the forest was popular for the “Ubasute”, a Japanese custom that provided for the spontaneous abandonment of the community by an elderly woman, in times of famine. This custom was infrequent, but the suicide of these women gave rise to the legend of the angry yūrei of Aokigahara, according to many still present in the forest.
According to some reports, forest workers must carry the bodies from the forest to the local police station, where they are put in a special room used specifically to house suicide corpses. Some believe that if a corpse is left alone, it is very bad luck for the yurei of the suicide victims. Their spirits are said to scream through the night, and that their bodies will move on their own….