As the Halloween and the All Souls’ Day had just passed, telling the tales about Japan’s Aokigahara could fit in the creepy feeling that everyone is still having now. Before we proceed, there is a need to inform our readers that the article and pictures might be disturbing, so don’t say you are not warned.
Due to the high level of stress faced by the Japanese, Japan is seen as one of top countries with high suicide rates. According to a report by The Guardian, depression, serious illness and debt are among the common reasons one seeks to end their life.
Back in the feudal era in Japan, committed suicide was seen as an act of honour. Samurai warriors would rather commit suicide, or known as seppuku (ritual disemboweling) than fall into the hands of their enemy – a way to uphold their honor and dignity. Even during the World War II, soldiers who joined the Kamikaze, the Special Attack Group to scarify for their country was seen as respectful and honoured.
However, as the world continues to change, things are quite different now. Nowadays, many had chosen to end their life not for honourable reasons, but mainly because they could not fit into the society.
As such, many who decide to suicide will chose a place where it is hidden and not easy to be found to spend their last moment. And for the Japanese, Aokigahara Forest is one of the most favourite locations. It is also known as the world’s second most favourite location to commit suicide. The first most favourite location to commit suicide is Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, United States.Yuichi Sakuraba/Flickr
Known as the most famous forests in Japan, Aokigahara is located at the northwest base of the country’s highest mountain, Mount Fuji. Due to its high density of trees, Aokigahara is also known as Jukai – which simply means the “sea of trees’. The trees coverage is so thick that, even in the noon you will hardly find a bright spot in the forest.
Aokigahara is also known as the Japan’s Demon Forest, the Suicide Forest and the “perfect place to die”. This unique forest, which is very quiet with hardly any wildlife living in has turned into a favourite spot among the Japanese to end their life. And because of the quietness (where you could hardly hear birds singing), many Japanese believed that the forest is haunted and dare not go near.Simon Desmarais/Flickr
This 35-sq km forest is cold, rocky and contains some 200 caves where few of them such as the Ice Cave and Wind Cave have been popular among the tourists. Because of the rocky area and thick trees, Aokigahara’s surroundings are almost identical, making it the perfect journey for those who are taking a one way trip. For trekkers and hikers, they often carry along plastic tape to mark their way so that they will find the way out again.Thien/Flickr
The Suicide Forest
The locals who live near Aokigahara said they could easily identify three types of visitors who head to this infamous forest – the trekkers, the curious one and those who plan a one way trip.
It all started with a mystery novel called “Kuroi Jukai” (translated as Black Sea of Trees) by Seicho Matsumoto in 1960. The novel has end romantically with the lovers committed suicide in the forest, revitalizing the Suicide Forest’s popularity among those who wanted to end their life.Simon Desmarais/Flickr
One could blame the novel for its dramatic ending, but suicide history of Aokigahara has started way before with many hanged themselves on the trees in the thick 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.www.tofugu.com
Local police has stopped publishing the number of suicides took place in Aokigahara, a way to downplay its popularity among those who determine to commit suicide and also a way to encourage more tourism activities in this amazing forest. The last data released was back in 2003, where 105 confirmed suicides were registered. It is believed that the number could be more as many corpses are never found.
In 2010, police records show that 247 people attempted to suicide in the forest, but only 54 of them “succeed”.
As such, local authorities have put up committed suicide prevention signs at the entrance to the thick forest. The signs read, “Your life is something precious that was given to you by your parents” and “Think about your parents, siblings and children once more. Do not be troubled alone.” The signs end with a helpline telephone number, hoping the lost souls who determine to die would call to seek last help.
It is hard to make a profile of the average profile of who commits suicide in the forest, but they are usually males between 40 and 50 years, and the biggest month for suicides is March, possibly because March is the end of the fiscal year in Japan. So many people come from all over Japan to end their stressful lives here as they feel it’s is the perfect location in which to breathe their last.www.aokigaharaforest.com
The Haunted Legend
In Japanese mythology, Aokigahara is known to be haunted by demons, a reason why some Japanese are still feared to enter the forest. It is believed that those who enter the forest would never return.
This could be true as even nowadays many trekkers would easily lost their way in this dense forest. Furthermore, due to the magnetic iron in the volcanic soil area nearby, it often interfere the functions of compasses or mobile phones.
Another reason why people believed that the forest is haunted is due to yurei, the souls filled with hatred, sadness and desire to revenge. According to legend, people will bring their family members who were infected by famine to the forest and leave them to die there. By doing so, the family was able to save their food for other family members. Those left in the forest will die slowly due to starvation, turning them into the yurei.
In the Japanese popular belief, if a person dies in a deep sense of hatred, anger, sadness, or desire for revenge, their soul can’t leave this world and continues to wander, appearing to people affected by the spell or those who cross his path . These souls are called yurei and they can are found in many modern cultural references such as movies as well. Unlike western horror movies, where the ghost wants something specific in order to be able to rest in peace, the yurei wants nothing in particular; they just want to have their curse removed or conflicts resolved.www.aokigaharaforest.com
The belief in yurei continues until today. When a body was in Aokigahara, forest guardians will place them in a room next to the forest before being sent to authorities. Legend has it that if the body is left alone in the room, its yurei will move around screaming in the room. Hence, forest guards will play janken (rock-paper-scissor game) to determine who the unlucky companion to the body is.
Below is a documentary on Aokigahara by VICE. It pretty much sum up everything you should know about this suicide forest.
Suicide in Japan
The bursting of Japan’s economic bubble prompted an end to lifetime employment, and was blamed for the spike in suicides in the late 1990s from around 25,000 a year to around 32,000.www.theguardian.com
Japan’s annual suicide rate has hovered around the 30,000 mark since the late 1990s, making it one of the highest rates in the world. In 2007, the figure rose to 33,093 – the second highest number ever – prompting the government to take action.
Japan will probably fall short of that target, but recent data is cause for optimism. Following a gradual decrease beginning in 2009, the number of suicides in 2012 fell below 30,000 – to 27,776 – for the first time since 1997. Last year, the rate fell again, to 27,283, according to data from the National Police Agency.www.theguardian.com