The Aokigahara Forest has become one of the world’s most popular destinations for committing suicide. In part, this reputation stems from popular representations like the recent The Forest horror film starring Natalie Dormer as sister searching for her twin in this mountain landscape. However, this reputation started with its reputation throughout Japan as the ideal spot for suicidal tendencies. More importantly, there is a long history of death in this eerily beautiful forest situated at the base of Mount Fuji—one that it more than earns the name Suicide Forest.
A Natural Wonder
The larger Aokigahara area geography consists of volcanic rock crowded with twisting trees and plant life. Tourists come to see the rocky ice caverns and the spectacular views from halfway up majestic Mt Fuji. In particular, they come to see the Sea of Trees, which is another name for the sprawling 14 square miles of Aokigahara forest. Despite its more sinister reputation, Suicide Forest is green all year round and very much resembles a verdant ocean of leaves from above.
Still, the uneven ground makes it unattractive to locals, who want to avoid stumbling upon rocks and gruesome discoveries alike while enjoying the beauty of nature. Even at its most beautiful, there is a sinister quality to these woods that shut out all sound. One can almost sense its dark history lurking beneath the surface.
A Deadly History
The area around Suicide Forest has long been associated with sinister folklore. In the past, it was a common site for ubasute, a form of euthanasia that involved the abandonment of needy elders in remote environments. Such tactics were reserved for drastic times when there was not enough food to go around, and the younger generation had to take priority. At the same time, Aokigahara has been long associated with yurei, a form of malevolent spirits in Japanese mythology doomed to wander the Earth and torture humankind. In particular, yurei are the souls of people who died in anger, deep sadness, or with a desire for vengeance.
Many feel that the malevolent energies of yurei and long-dead ubasute combine to permeate the trees in Aokigahara Forest. With each new death, they become stronger, and dispirited visitors are more likely to wander off the path and to their deaths.
A Dangerous Choice
Within Japanese culture, the values associated with samurai suicide or seppuku has led to an association between the act and a sense of honor. For many, taking their own life feels like the only way to take responsibility for their actions. The connection between this choice and the forests of Aokigahara was solidified by Japanese writer Seicho Matsumoto. In this 1960 classic, tragic novel Kuroi Jukai, a jilted lover chooses to end her life in the then-romantic Sea of Trees.
Over time, the forests became far too popular a site for such a life-ending decision. Other publications, such as The Complete Suicide Manual, also pointed out the area as the perfect spot for suicide, and the forest’s fate was sealed. By the 1970s, the Japanese government had instituted annual sweeps to remove the dead, with rising rates each year.
A Series of Suicides
Current events have hardly helped matters. Suicide rates in Japan jumped up by 15 percent after the global financial situation of 2008. Although the numbers eventually decreased, they have remained relatively high due to continuing financial problems. The forest’s guardians organize regular searches to try to convince people not to take their lives, with signs of doubt including a tent or ribbons used to help people get out of the forest. They are also around to help because cell phones and GPS systems do not function correctly due to the magnetic iron in the forest’s soil. However, the guardians’ focus is usually to collect the bodies of the deceased. When a corpse is recovered, they take precautions against creating another yurei spirit by keeping the body on a bed in a designated room just outside the forest. According to folk belief, someone must sleep with a dead body to prevent the yurei from rising, and it falls to the guardians to perform this duty.
Other precautions include security cameras at the entrances, more patrols, and signs encouraging people to return to their lives with messages like “Your life is a precious gift.” Unfortunately, the rising number of suicides indicates their work may simply be in vain.
What was once a scenic forest has become a dark and morbid place for people to end their lives in pain. While the most popular method of suicide in Aokigahara is hanging, others attempt drugs or sleeping pills, which can lead to them suffering for a full day before death. Perhaps the yurei truly do take control of people once they arrive at Suicide Forest, but, thankfully, the government and its guardians are not going to give up on them any time soon. Still, should you find yourself in Suicide Forest, stay on the path, and don’t listen the trees–no matter how persuasive their words may be.
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