Located at the base of Mt. Fuji, Aokigahara is perhaps the most infamous forest in all of Japan. Also known as the Sea of Trees, Suicide Forest, and Japan's Demon Forest, Aokigahara has been home to over 500 confirmed suicides since the 1950s. Called "the perfect place to die," Aokigahara is the world's second most popular place for suicide (the Golden Gate Bridge being the first).
A HORRIFYING LEGEND IS BORN
Legend says that this all started after Seicho Matsumoto published a novel by the name of Kuroi Kaiju (Black Sea of Trees) in 1960. The story ends with two lovers committing suicide in the forest, so many people believe that's what started it all. However, the history of suicide in Aokigahara predates the novel, and the place has long been associated with death. Hundreds upon hundreds of Japanese people have hanged themselves from the trees of Aokigahara forest.
Wataru Tsurumui's controversial 1993 bestseller, The Complete Suicide Manual, is a book that describes various modes of suicide and even recommends Aokigahara as the perfect place to die. Apparently this book is also a common find in the forest, usually not too far away from a suicide victim and their belongings. Undoubtedly, the most common method of suicide in the forest is hanging.
Japan's suicide rate is already bad enough as it is, and having this forest and suicide manual on top of it all is pretty terrible. It's really sad. Despite many efforts to prevent suicide and provide help to those considering it, Japan's suicide rate continues to rise.
In ancient times families would abandon people in the forest during periods of famine when there was not enough food to go around. By sacrificing family members to the forest, there would be less mouths to feed and therefore enough food for the rest of the family. Those abandoned in the forest would die long, horrible, drawn out deaths due to starvation. Because of that, Aokigahara is also said to be haunted by the souls of these abandoned people.
In addition, there are many other ghost and demon stories associated with the forest. It is said that these ghastly spirits glide between the trees with their white, shifting forms being occasionally spotted by unsuspecting visitors out of the corners of their eyes.
Japanese spiritualists believe that the suicides committed in the forest have permeated Aokigahara's soil and trees, generating paranormal activity and preventing many who enter from escaping the gnarled depths of the forest.
The vast forest covers a 3,500 hectare wide area and the tree coverage in Aokigahara is so thick that even at high noon it's entirely possible to find places shrouded in complete darkness. It's also mostly devoid of animals and is eerily quiet. Hearing a bird chirping in the forest is incredibly rare. The area is rocky, cold, and littered with over 200 caves for you to accidentally fall into.
The discomforting forest is known for the thickness of its trees, its twisting network of woody vines, and the dangerous unevenness of the forest floor. All of this together gives the place a very unwelcoming feeling.
Further compounding the creepiness factor is the common occurrence of compasses, cell phones, and GPS systems being rendered useless by the rich deposits of magnetic iron in the area's volcanic soil. I'm sure this fact has helped propagate the legend of the forest's demonic habit of trapping visitors within it.
Besides bodies and homemade nooses, also scattered around the forest are signs put up by the police with messages like "Your life is a precious gift from your parents," and "Please consult with the police before you decide to die," in an attempt to discourage would be committers of suicide. Judging from the increasing number of suicides, these signs probably aren't all that effective.
AN UNFORTUNATE SUICIDE HOTSPOT
By the 1970s the suicides had become so infamous that the Japanese government started to do annual sweeps of the forest to search for and clear out the bodies. In 2002, 78 bodies were found within the forest, exceeding the previous record of 74 in 1998. By 2003, the rate had climbed to 100.
In recent years, the local government has stopped publicizing the numbers in an attempt to downplay Aokigahara's association with suicide. In 2004, 108 people killed themselves in the forest and in 2010, 247 people attempted suicide, 54 of whom succeeded. But that's just the number they found and reported. Who knows how many more there are that just go undiscovered?
ITS EFFECT ON THE LOCALS
Nearly as unfortunate as the suicides themselves is the impact the suicides have on the locals and forest workers. One local man says, "It bugs the hell out of me that the area's famous for being a suicide spot." 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." It's really a shame that such a unique and interesting forest has become sullied by so many suicides.
The forest workers have it even worse than the police who comb and investigate the forest. The workers are tasked with the job of carrying the bodies down from the forest to the local station, where the bodies are put in a special room used specifically to house suicide corpses. The forest workers then play janken to see who has to sleep in the room with the corpse. Talk about terrible.
The reason for these strange sleeping arrangements is that it is believed if the corpse is left alone, it's very bad luck for the ghost of the suicide victim. Their spirits are said to scream throughout the night if left alone, and their bodies will get up and shuffle around, searching for company.
I don't know about you, but this sounds like one of the absolute worst ways to spend a night. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad if the body is just like a pile of bones, but I can't imagine how creepy it would be to sleep in a dinky little room with a fresh corpse as a roommate.
To make matters worse, a few years back people started to scavenge the forest for valuables. And by this I mean that people would search the forest for dead bodies and then loot their corpses. Talk about disrespectful, not to mention creepy.
I also found this awesome video from Vice about one of the guys who regularly goes on suicide prevention patrols in Aokigahara. It's really interesting and definitely worth a watch if you have twenty minutes to spare.
Like I said before, the suicide rate of Japan is one of the highest in the world and really shows no sign of decreasing despite government measures to discourage it. That being said, I don't really see Aokigahara becoming less of a suicide hotspot anytime soon.