Mythical and pristine Aokigahara Forest lays at the base of Mount Fuji in the Honshu region of Japan. The forest is known as the "Sea of Trees" because it is so dense that outside noise cannot be heard only a few feet into the forest. However, this beautiful lush forest has a sinister reputation. Aokigahara Forest has been a popularized place to commit suicide which is second in the world only to the Golden Gate Bridge. This location has always been frequented by people deciding to end their lives, but it was made popular by Seicho Matsumoto’s novel Kuroi Jukai which ends in the characters committing joint suicide in the Aokigahara forest. It is also romanticizing in the more sinister novel called The Complete Manual of Suicide by Wataru Tsurumui. This best selling suicide guide is found with many of the corpses and describes Aokigahara Forest as a "the perfect place to die".
History of Aokigahara Forest
In 864 Mount Fuji, Japan's largest peak and active volcano, erupted spewing great masses of both ash and lava onto the earth. The lava separated the large lake Senoumi into the two lakes of Saiko and Shojiko of present day.
The lava also covered the site of what is now Aokigahara Forest. After the lave cooled, the dense forest sprouted over it. This gave the forest ground and trees a very twisted and rough terrain. The ground is also exceptionally hard which prevents people from digging too deeply into the Earth.
The base of Mount Fuji also used to play host for samurais who came to train within this sanctuary of nature. When dishonored or defeated in battle Samurai would commit a form of honorable suicide known as Seppuku. However this forest did not get its reputation for suicide from these ancient warriors.
No one is sure of how Aokigahara Forest became a hotspot for suicides in particular, but there are quite a few paranormal legends about demons and ghosts that wonder among the trees. These ghosts are said to be the restless spirits of elders and children who were brought to the forest and left to wander lost until they died. This act was done in times of famine when families could not afford to feed everyone. It is said that these spirits twisted into horrible demons who prevent people from coming out of the forest.
Suicides in Aokigahara Forest
It is not the locals of Aokigahara that go into the forest to end their lives, in fact they are warned as children to stay away from the forest. Aokigahara Forest has three types of travelers and you can be sure a park official will be sizing you up if you go there. The people that visit Aokigahara Forest are those looking for scenic views of Mount Fuji, curious tourists looking for a macabre thrill, and those who seek to end their lives with suicide.
Throughout the forests, there are signs urging the downtrodden to reconsider their choice. There are advertisements for credit management companies (as many people come here after suffering from excessive debt), phrases like "your life is a precious gift from your parents", and phone numbers for suicide prevention hotlines.
Since the 1950's, there have been over 500 confirmed suicides, but visitors still find aged bones of the dead littered throughout the woods. In the 1970's Japan began doing annual sweeps of the forest to try and recover the bodies of the deceased.
The number of suicides reached a new record by 2004 with 108 confirmed deaths that year, after steadily rising each year since the dawn of the 21st century. With the troubled worldwide economy, many people who are fired or find themselves in debt swell the forest each year. This number skyrockets in March which marks the end of the fiscal year in Japan. In recent years, officials have stopped publishing the exact numbers of suicide corpses they fish from the forest each year to try and deter people from seeing it a location to end their life.
The locals abhor that their pristine forest is seen as such a place and have worked tirelessly to change that image, however it does not deter those who are determined to die. Worse than locals having to live with their land having such a reputation is that of the jobs of the forest rangers. They frequently go through the forests and have to drag out the bodies of the dead. They have to carry the bodies by foot since the forest is inaccessible to vehicles off the trails, then they put them in a special room at the rangers station specifically for suicide victims. The ranger then must assign one of their own to sleep in the room.
It is believed that if the body is left alone after it is found, it will mean back luck for their spirit causing their ghost to howl within the forest and some legends say that their body will come back to life possessed by a demon.
Litter in Aokigahara Forest
Up until about the one kilometer mark in Aokigahara Forest, you will find copious amounts of litter. Bits of rope hang from the trees where a victim has been cut down, clothes and abandon camp sites can be found with all the things that suicide victims leave behind. However, the most noticeable litter within the forest is colorful ribbons of plastic woven among the trees. Thrill seekers and those unsure of it they really want to die weave these colorful ribbons among the trees so they can find their way out if need be.
Aokigahara Forest is notorious for even people not wanting to commit suicide not coming back out. The forest is dense and difficult to navigate once you leave the trails. Mixed into the hardened lava that constitutes as the ground is rich iron deposits that make compasses useless. These factors make it easy for curious hikers to get lost within the forest, so thus, the use of those colorful ribbons of plastic were born.
Most of these ribbons lead to a very sad scene and possibly a corpse, this is how many park rangers are led to the dead. Though a number of people talk themselves out of suicide but leave the ribbons up after they leave.
Aokigahara Forest - A Sad Place to Die
No matter the reason on why, suicide is a sad and lonely way to die. It can almost always be avoided by sitting down and talking to someone. However, in today's 'connected' society we just do not get the face to face interaction with people that we need. When we feel backed against a corner, it is easy to feel like there is no way to turn to. In life, those who feel alone never are and when you take your own life it effects the lives of those who love you most.
I find Aokigahara Forest a strange sort of event. When I think of the forest of suicides it always makes me recall Dante's Inferno where he describes the middle ring in the seventh circle of hell. Those who committed suicide are twisted and transformed into horrible fleshy trees that are constantly ripped at and eaten by harpies for all eternity. Perhaps they should post that chapter to deter those who would commit suicide there. Why anyone would want to kill themselves in a forest with that fate potentially waiting for them, I will never know.
During my research of Aokigahara Forest, I found this brief little documentary done by Vice Magazine in, I think, 2004 or 2008. It's a very neat and sad tour through the forest.