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Myths And Facts About Japan’s “Suicide Forest”

 

 

Japan’s Aokigahara Forest is better known as the “Suicide Forest.” The reasons why it sees so many people take their lives are complicated. Sometimes called “Jukai” by locals, and also called the “Sea of Trees,” Aokigahara is an almost silent place where one can easily wander off the path and get lost. It’s isolated and haunting, a silent place where a heartbroken lover, depressed person, or jobless businessman can go if they want to take their own life. And it’s also beautiful, with ice caves, soaring trees, and a stunning view of Mount Fuji. In early 2018, the forest gained mainstream attention when YouTuber Logan Paul sparked controversy by filming a dead body at the location.

Because so many people have died in the Aokigahara, both in modern and ancient times, there are a number of stories, myths, and legends about it. Spooky stories abound of spirits haunting the thick canopy – ghosts called the souls of suicide and murder victims. Those who died by their own hand or in an unnatural way are said to be prevented from joining the spirits of their ancestors because of their manner of demise. So they haunt the trees, the soil, and the mountains – their ghastly moans heard when nothing else can be, driving those currently in the forest crazy.

Here are some of the real facts about Aokigahara Forest. It’s up to you whether you want to explore this quiet, foreboding place one day or if reading about it here is as close as you’ll ever want to get.

The Forest Is In the Shadow of Mount Fuji

Photo:  patrik671/Pixabay/CC0 1.0

Located at the base of Mount Fuli, Aokigahara is a thick canopy of trees, with a hard floor made of compressed volcanic rock. The soil is so thick and packed together that it’s virtually impossible to dig into. Combine featureless ground with thickly packed leaves, and hikers easily lose their way. Not only that, but iron deposits in the volcanic soil render GPS and cell phones useless. It’s extremely easy to get lost in the “Sea of Trees.”

The Trees Are Incredibly Thick

Photo: Neil Tackaberry/flickr/CC-BY-ND 2.0

The foliage in Aokigahara is so dense that it’s virtually impossible to see above it, or past about ten feet. The trees are high and crooked, meaning the sun can be virtually blocked out. Japanese officials caution hikers not to wander off beaten paths, and people often use colored tape to mark the trail they’ve gone on.

It’s Nearly Devoid of Sound

Photo:  damesophie/Pixabay/CC0 1.0

The density of the tree growth prevents wind from penetrating the canopy and flowing throw the forest. This gives Aokigahara an eerie stillness and quiet, that hikers have described as almost complete silence. It also means cries can be heard from long distances – hence the source of stories about the forest being haunted with moaning ghosts. 

It’s Also Devoid of Wildlife

Photo:  Unsplash/Pixabay/CC0 1.0

Virtually no wild animals live in Aokigahara. The denseness of the trees makes it difficult for animals to make their way into and around it, and there’s little for them to eat when there. Any animals that do live in the dense foliage are nocturnal, and are never seen by humans. The trees are so thick that birds are rarely seen, and hikers have spoken about how startled they are when they actually do hear a bird chirp. 

Aokigahara Has More Than Trees

Photo: elminium/flickr/CC-BY 2.0

While it’s famous for its impenetrable canopy of trees, Aokigahara also has a number of astounding natural features. The most prominent are its deep, icy caverns, such as Narusawa Ice Cave, and Wind Cave. Hikers can go deep underground and encounter sheets, columns, and pillars of ice – all hovering at freezing temperatures. 

It’s the Place With The Second Most Suicides in the World

Photo: elminium/flickr/CC-BY 2.0

While Aokighara is known for its trees and ice caves, it’s infamous for its suicides. It’s estimated that this forest is the site for more people taking their own lives than anywhere else, second only to the Golden Gate Bridge. Estimates of how many people have killed themselves there vary, but it’s likely to be at least 500, and quite likely many more.

Nobody Knows How Many Suicides Have Taken Place There

Photo: simonwijers/Pixabay/CC0 1.0

Like the Golden Gate Bridge, Japanese authorities don’t publish the exact numbers of suicides that take place in Aokigahara, in order to stop it from becoming even more popular. But unlike Golden Gate Bridge, and other popular suicide sites, the true number isn’t actually known by anyone. While forest workers find about 70 corpses every year, it’s thought that many others are simply gone, swallowed up by the thick vegetation on the ground.

Spirits Called Yurei Are Said to Haunt the Forest

Photo: Thien V/flickr/CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

In Japanese folklore, spirits known as yurei are said to haunt the forest. They usually take the form of pale women in white gowns with long, black hair. They concentrate in Aokigahara because tradition says that those who take their own lives can’t join the spirits of their ancestors. 

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Yurei are still considered, even in modern times – as evidenced by the ritual of the forest worker sleeping with the corpse of a suicide, so their spirit doesn’t become angry.

The Suicides Represent All Walks of Life in Japan

Photo: DeltaWorks/Pixabay/CC0 1.0

Given its popularity and prominent location, Aokigahara sees the suicides of many different types of people. While it’s known primarily for the suicides of the so-called “Japanese salaryman” in a suit who loses his job and shamefully kills himself, it doesn’t stop there. Aokigahara has had young lovers kill themselves, patients with terminal illnesses, people suffering from severe depression, and most recently, relatives of those killed in the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Mental illness, joblessness, debt, and disease have all been cited as reasons for suicides in the forest.

Forest Workers Have to Take the Bodies Out

Photo: kalleboo/flickr/CC-BY 2.0

When a body is found, the workers of Aokigahara have a solemn and complicated task to carry out. The sheer number of corpses found every year has led to a series of codified procedures and rituals, carried out every time. The workers must carry the bodies down from the forest to the local  police station, where the bodies are put in a special room used specifically to house bodies from suicides. The forest workers then play jan-ken-pon (rock, paper, scissors) to see who has to sleep in the room with the corpse overnight until it’s picked up the next day. This is part of a ritual so that the spirit of the deceased is not left alone.

Legends of Old People Being Left In the Forest Are Centuries Old

Photo: WikimediaImages/Pixabay/CC0 1.0

It’s a widely-held legend in Japan that in ancient times, families would abandon people (usually women) to die in Aokigahara during periods of famine or drought, when there wasn’t enough food. Those abandoned in the forest would slowly starve to death, and their souls are said to haunt the trees, gliding around in the deep canopy. It’s not known how common this practice, known as ubasute, actually was.

The Suicide Epidemic Has a Concrete Origin

Photo: *_*/flickr/CC-BY 2.0

While people had been committing suicide in Aokigahra for decades, the epidemic first started to be tracked in the 1950s. It didn’t truly become a national problem until 1960, when author Seicho Matsumoto published a novel called Kuroi Kaiju (Black Sea of Trees) in 1960. The story ends with two lovers committing suicide in the forest, and a noticeable uptick in suicides was seen afterwards.Wataru Tsurumui’s controversial 1993 bestseller The Complete Suicide Manual recommended Aokigahara as the perfect place to die, and the book is often found near suicide victims and their belongings. 

Anti-Suicide Signs Are Everywhere

Photo: CalUrbanist/flickr/CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

Japanese authorities know of the forest’s reputation for suicides, but can do little about it. Aokigahara is open to the public and would be impossible to close off. What they have done is put up numerous signs around the forest discouraging wouldbe suicides. The signs have encouraging messages like “Your life is a precious gift from your parents,” “Think of your family!” and “Please consult with the police before you decide to die.” 

Aokigahara Scavenging Is a Thing

Photo: GaijinSeb/flickr/CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

Buoyed by the presence of dozens of corpses, scavengers have begun to set upon the forest to look for dropped valuables, left behind by people who killed themselves. Even worse, they’d often loot the corpses before the forest workers had a chance to find them. Talk about something that will make the yurei angry…

Aokigahara Is a Fixture of Film, Music, and Video Games

Beyond being the setting for the upcoming thriller The Forest starring Natalie Dormer, Aokigahara has been featured in a number of other artistic works. Gus Van Sant’s 2015 film Sea of Trees, with Matthew McConaughey and Ken Watanabe, was set there, along with a number of Japanese manga, anime, and several video game levels. Seicho Matsumoto’s 1960 novel Kuroi Jukai (Black Sea of Trees) sparked much interest in the site.  The Forest is also referenced by a number of black metal bands, including several from Japan.

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