WARNING: This post contains disturbing content. Read at your own risk.
Aokigahara, The Suicide Forest
There is a 35 square kilometre forest at the northwest base of Mount Fuji, Japan. It’s called Aokigahara, also known as Jukai (Sea of Trees), or the Suicide Forest. Known as one of the scariest places on earth, Aokigahara has seen at worst 105 bodies in one year (2003). In 2010, more than 200 people attempted suicide in this forest (54 were successful).
Anyone who ventures into Aokigahara has a good chance of finding a corpse, because authorities won’t sweep for bodies more than once a year. The forest is far too dense.
Why is This Happening?
Although there are high iron deposits in the soil, making compasses and GPS do strange things, most deaths occur in the forest due to hanging or sleeping pills. Not many are hikers who simply lost their way.
In 1960 a book was published called Kuroi Jukai (Life for a Forest) about a heart-broken lover who goes to Aokigahara to die. Some believe this romanticized suicide here, but suicides at Aokigahara were happening long before the 1960s. This forest is also part of dark folklore that says in times of famine, families would abandon their elderly here to reduce the number of mouths to feed at home.
In Japan, suicide didn’t always carry a stigma like it did in other cultures. dating back to their feudal era, seppuku (harakiri) was thought to be an honourable gesture and taking responsibility. Even in today’s modern society, Japan has the highest suicide rate in the world.
In Aokigahara, some believe the suicides are inspired by Yurei (ghosts who suffered a violent and unnatural death) in the forest. Signs of evil curses can also be found in Aokigahara. One example is a doll hung upside down on a tree, held by nails, with the face cut off. Many say the Yurei are vengeful and will cut the tape trekkers use to prevent from getting lost. They would then talk them into taking their lives.
What Else makes Aokigahara One of the Scariest Places on Earth?
Other than the history of suicides, the chances of finding a corpse, and the stories of Yurei, Aokigahara is just plain creepy. The forest’s trees organically twist and turn and the roots make treacherous paths along the forest floor. The forest is so dense, there’s no breeze, no rustling of leaves, just deadly silent. Wildlife is sparse in Aokighara, except for birds whose songs are loud and intense. The few sounds you do hear are echoed by the hundreds of small caves in the forest. Imagine deadly silence as if you are deaf, then a sudden birdsong screaming in the distance. Enough to make you jump out of your skin I’m sure.
What’s Being Done to Prevent the Suicides?
Authorities decided to stop publishing the numbers of suicides in Aokigahara after 2010 to discourage the numbers from climbing. In addition, a sign is posted at the entry that translates: “Your life is a precious gift from your parents. Please think about your parents, siblings and children. Don’t keep it to yourself. Talk about your troubles.” The sign then directs you to contact the Suicide Prevention Association.
In the documentary Suicide Forest in Japan, you’ll meet Azusa Hayano who is one of many volunteers who go into the forest and look for troubled people who may be thinking about suicide. They talk to them. They ask “are you ok?”. Buddhist monks have set up altars in the forest to try and combat the evil spirits, or yurei.
I wasn’t able to find an English version of Kuroi Jukai, but there are a few books out there for further reading if you think you might want to go to one of the scariest places on earth one day.
Just remember though, I warned you.
So is the Suicide Forest just a sad commentary on people who feel lost and desperate? Or is there something more evil and sinister going on here? Put your thoughts in the comment section below.
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