Aokigahara: Japan’s Infamous ‘Suicide Forest’

aokigahara-suicide-forest-japan (Image: keio)

The dense, verdant forest of Aokigahara, which lies at the base of Mount Fuji, is known by a number of names in Japan. Among the more benign examples is the Sea of Trees, conjuring images of a verdant green oasis in the shadow of the majestic mountain. But the area has a darker side too, known to many as the Suicide Forest, or the “perfect place to die”.

When a reporter with the Japan Times ventured into the forest, he did so because he knew of its reputation. The 14 square mile area is part of the Yamanahi Prefecture. Situated beneath the northwest slopes of the mountain, it’s a place as serene as it is dark, and as the sun begins to set, that serenity sets, too, replaced by an eerie sort of fear.

aokigahara-suicide-forest-japan-2 (Image: keio)

It’s one thing to know of a forest’s reputation, but it’s another thing entirely to witness it. But that’s precisely what happened to the journalist at Aokigahara. There, he discovered the body of a middle-aged man, surrounded by all the accouterments of middle-class life, along with a bottle of pills and more bottles of alcohol.

Aokigahara has been, for centuries, the last place visited by a staggering number of people seeking to end their lives. Numbers are tricky to estimate, since the police have reportedly resisting releasing concrete figures to the public so as not to add to the mythos of the place.

aokigahara-suicide-forest-japan-3 (Image: Jordy Meow)

It’s unlikely that the authorities even know the numbers, with bodies undoubtedly going undiscovered by volunteers who spent their time searching for them. And then there are wild animals. Unofficial figures, however, suggest that around 70 bodies are discovered every year. Most victims are middle-aged, but with suicide on the rise in Japan, that demographic could always change.

Over the years, there have been several instances of what the Japan Times calls a suicide fad. In 1961, one such fad was allegedly precipitated by the novel Nami no To (Tower of Waves), which was said to have driven an unusually high number of people to Aokighara that year.

aokigahara-suicide-forest-japan-4 (Image: Seb)

Those that live and work near the Suicide Forest are extremely vigilant, knowing not only the reason why many people go there, but also that a few kind words can make a world of difference to potential victims in their hour of need. Cafe owners recount welcoming failed suicides into their establishments, waiting with them for the emergency services to arrive. Visit the forest, and you’ll see signs asking you to think of your family before you do something that can’t be undone, and suicide helplines are posted.

There’s something so inexplicably dark about the forest of Aokigahara that it’s hardly surprising that a number of local myths and urban legends have grown up around it also. It’s virtually impossible to imagine that so much sorrow and suffering can consume a single plot of land without becoming permanently linked to the forest. And there’s a belief that’s just what happened.

aokigahara-suicide-forest-japan-5 (Image: keio)

It’s said that the bodies of the dead can be seen to move on their own, and if they’re not recovered, their spirit will continue to haunt the forest. The sound of the wind in the trees echoes the screams of the unfound dead, and supposedly, the restless spirits will haunt those that enter the forest, no matter what their reasons for being there.

It’s easy to get lost amid the eerie labyrinth of trees on even the brightest of days, and according to local lore, those who have taken their own lives there will prevent other people from escaping a similar fate.

Related – Mourning Rituals & Etiquette: The Victorians’ Morbid Obsession with Death

 

About the author: Debra Kelly

 

 
 
 


 
 

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