Aokigahara is a forest located in the West of Japan at the base of Mount Fuji. It is known to the Japanese by many names, the most common being ‘The Sea of Trees’, a suitable title as this stunning, thick forest is green all year round. ‘The Suicide Forest’ is unfortunately another well suited name, as Aokigahara is infamous in Japan for the number of deaths that occur here each year through suicide. The final (and I personally feel least cheerful) title of Aokigahara is ‘Japan’s Demon Forest’. This name arises from the supposed haunting of the forest, which is not a surprising assumption for those of us who are superstitious given the circumstances.
The Suicide Forest
Aokigahara is the second most popular location in the world to commit suicide in, and the most popular in Japan.
It is widely assumed that the suicides began in this forest after the novel ‘Kuroi Jukai’ by Seicho Matsumoto was published in 1960, in which a pair of young lovers commits suicide in Aokigahara. However, the history of suicide in this forest predates the publication of this novel. Another factor contributing to the popularity of Aokigahara as a suicide destination is the publication of Japan’s infamous ‘Complete Suicide Manual’. Published in 1993 and written by Wataru Tsurumi, it describes Aokigahara as ‘the perfect place to die’. Since the 1950’s there have been many deaths in the forest each year. Figures are difficult to come by due to the Japanese government ceasing to report their findings in an attempt to downplay the forests suicidal association and discourage others from taking their lives here. Estimates range from between 10-100 suicides per year, although only 500 corpses have ever been officially confirmed once found. Although authorities sweep the forest for bodies on an annual basis, it is far too dense to patrol more frequently and therefore the chances of you stumbling across a rotting corpse hanging from a tree as you enjoy your leisurely bush walk are unfortunately pretty damn high.
In an attempt to reduce suicides in the forest, signs are put up by police and volunteers with messages such as ‘your life is a precious gift from your parents’, ‘Please consult with the police before you decide to die’ and ‘YOLO’. That last one was a lie. But you get the idea.
The signs statistically have had very little impact on the suicide rate in the forest, however the idea was a good one as there is evidence many of the suicide victims going into the forest are unsure of their decision. They bring in objects that would allow them to survive if they wished to, and also leave a trail of tape leading from the forests edge should they choose to live and find their way out again.
Spare a thought for the poor forest workers of Aokigahara. Although it is the official job of the police to search for and locate bodies, it is the workers jobs to not only carry the corpses down to a really horrendous sounding building at the edge of the forest where the dead people are stored, but they also have to sleep with the corpses. It all comes down to the belief that if the corpse of a suicide victim is left alone, their spirit will scream throughout the night and their former bodies will get up and move around looking for company. They decide on who will get this delightful task each night through a game of rock, paper, scissors.
I personally would rather just soundproof the room, deadbolt the door and get the hell out of there. But hey, that’s just me.
The Demon Forest
Aokigahara is considered one of the most haunted locations in Japan. It has a pretty long history of death even before its popularity as ‘the perfect place to die’. In the times of ancient Japan, families would abandon their old, infirm, very young or mentally ill relatives during periods of famine when there was not enough food to go round, in order to ensure that the rest of the family could survive. Those chosen to be left in the forest would die long, slow and painful deaths through starvation. Naturally the place is thought to be haunted by those poor abandoned souls.
It is believed that the ghosts (Yurei) still cling to the earthly realm in a kind of purgatory, because they died too soon or too suddenly. They torment those still living who enter the forest, and do their utmost to ensure that they do not leave. Apparently, they have been spotted on occasion gliding between trees as a ghastly white apparition. Many believe that ancient demons from Japanese myths also reside in this forest. The belief is that the evil in here do not want you to leave.
Spiritualists in Japan believe that the terrible suicidal events that have occurred in Aokigahara have permeated the forest landscape, creating paranormal activity and preventing many who enter from ever finding their way out again. However, a scientific explanation is that compasses can go pretty haywire in the forest due to the rich deposits of magnetic iron in the forests volcanic soil, and the intensely thick tree cover can often prevent GPS systems from functionally properly.
The Sea of Trees
Aokigahara is one of the few virgin forests still left in Japan today. Part of the forest is located within the Mount Fuji area currently seeking accreditation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The forest grew over lava which erupted from Mount Nagaoyama, a parasitic volcano that grew on the side of the sacred Mount Fuji in AD 864, where the trees now twist and turn over the black lumps and mounds. With the setting of the lava having formed tunnels and caves; this is a truly unique and ethereal forest.
The forest possesses an incredible and mysterious beauty that covers 3500 hectares of thick, tangled and twisted land. There are reportedly very few sightings of wildlife in Aokigahara, adding to the eerie and desolate atmosphere of the forest, however there are plenty of delicious wild mushrooms to be found emerging from the moss-covered ground amongst the conifers and deciduous trees. The solid lava on which the forest resides creates a very rocky and uneven terrain littered with partially hidden caves. Some of these caves have been formed by past eruptions that knocked down huge trees which were then subsequently covered by lava. Once the tree had decomposed, the resulting frame left a criss-cross of underground tunnels. These caves are known as compound tree-molds. Other caves are created by the expansion of underground gases formally trapped in the lava causing separation in the rock.
1225 hectares of Aokigahara is designated as a Special Protection Zone, where the unauthorised removal of and damage to vegetation is prohibited. A further 1311 hectares of the forest is a Class I Special Protection Zone which prohibits the felling of trees. A constant struggle for the rangers of the forest is the battle against the tape that accumulates within. Tape, ribbons and rope are found all over the forest; as markers for hikers and thrill-seekers to find their way back, by forest wardens to indicate that a particular area has been searched and by potential suicide victims who use it to either find their way back if they are indecisive, or to allow others to locate their remains. As well as being an eyesore, this tape has become a danger to the forests ecology; in areas it can become so thick it is difficult for wildlife to transverse the area from place to place.
Walking through Aokigahara uncharted is dangerous, but nature is supposed to be like that. Harsh. Aokigahara is filled with untouched natural beauty. To sully it by committing suicide is a slap in the face of the natural environment. – Asuza Hayano, Japanese writer.
A movie has been made based on the Aokigahara!
‘The Forest’ is a horror movie starring Natalie Dormer released on the 8th January 2016. It is set in the Aokigahara forest, where a young woman’s twin is assumed to have gone to commit suicide. The woman goes after her and encounters all the demons and spirits believed to inhabit the forest.
The government forbids filming in Aokigahara, so the movie was filmed in an alternate forest in Serbia, near the Tara mountain.