Aokigahara: Japan’s Macabre ‘Suicide Forest’, “The Perfect Place to Die”

An unidentified man lies dead from what appears to be an overdose in Aokigahara Jukai, better known as the Mt. Fuji suicide forest, which is located at the base of Japan's famed mountain west of Tokyo, Japan on Dec 1 2009.

-WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS GRAPHIC DEPICTIONS OF DEATH WHICH MAY NOT BE SUITABLE FOR SOME-

Aokigahara or “Suicide Forest” in Japan rests at the North-West base of Mount Fuji, less than 100 miles west of Tokyo. The forest is known locally as “Jukai” (“Sea of Trees”) and is notoriously associated in Japanese mythology with demons, possession, insanity and most prominently, suicide.

It has been the subject matter of countless poems, some more that 1,000 years old. Many people enter the forest each year with the intention of ending their lives and have since ancient times.

 Aokigahara is also known for being a popular destination for the act of “Ubasute”, alternatively spelled “obasute” (“abandoning an old woman” and “oyasute” (“abandoning a parent”). Although this practice existed more often in folklore than in reality, Aokigahara is rumored to be haunted by Yurei (angry spirits) of the elderly and infirm who were allegedly left to die in the forest in the distant past. In ubasute and oyasute, the elderly person was carried to a remote and desolate location such as a mountain or forest and left there to die of starvation, dehydration or exposure. This practice was often used during times of famine or drought and was government mandated at times; Ubasute and oyasute may have continued as late as the 19th century. Ancient Japanese manuscripts suggest Aokigahara was a popular spot for lovelorn Samurai to commit Seppuku, a ritual self-disembowlment which was a popular method of an honorable death up until the 20th century.

The 14 sq. mile (35 sq. km) forest, densely packed with trees is also a popular tourist destination for hiking and exploring The Ice Cave and The Wind Cave. In recent years, hikers have begun using tape in order to find their way out of the forest. Due to rich deposits of magnetic iron and volcanic ash in the area, compasses malfunction and it is unlikely that those entering the forest will see another human being until they leave. Often, people who enter the forest to contemplate suicide will also leave tape trails so that if they choose to live, they can find their way out.

Carbelonging to a victim of suicide discovered in Aokigahara

The forest is dark and silent making it easy to become lost or confused; Thick vegetation blocks out sunlight and animal life is eerily scarce. Visitors also say sounds are muffled and the voice of a person standing next to you sounds as though they are speaking from another room. High levels of minerals and metals such as those present in Aokigahara have long been believed by parapsychologists to attribute to hauntings and other forms of paranormal activity.

 Japanese spiritualists believe the spirits of those who commit suicide remain in the trees and that demons and evil entities in Aokigahara are working to prevent those who enter from ever leaving whether they become lost, go mad or unexpectedly choose to end their life by influence of demonic possession or the environment. The forest is made all the more macabre by the shoes, photographs, letters, dolls and other personal belongings which litter the ground.

As the name suggests, Suicide Forest which has been described as “The Perfect Place to Die” is also filled with many corpses of those who have committed suicide in Aokigahara.

 Sadly, the high suicide rates in Aokigahara have led to many people begin monetizing off victims by taking money and valuables from the dead. Since 1950, at least 500 people have committed suicide in the forest with more than 4,000 attempts and more that 200 people who have gone missing. In the past, there were an average of 10-30 suicides per year but recently, the statistics have spiked drastically.


In 1998 there were 73 known suicides in Aokigahara, 68 in 1999, 59 in the years 2000 and 2001, 78 in 2002 and 105 in 2003, the highest in any year on record. Japanese officials have since stopped publishing the suicide rates in the forest in an attempt to erase the stigma surrounding ‘Suicide Forest’.

 

It is estimated that in 2010 there were 54 suicides and 200 attempts. While people of all ages, genders, races and backgrounds end their life in Aokigahara, the majority have been business men from all across Japan, 40-50 years of age. Many were fired, let go, or demoted from important positions in their field; Some suicide victims having been chief executives.

It is believed many, after losing their source of income, chose to die rather than to bring shame to their family. Suicide rates in Aokigahara drastically increase in March which is the end of the fiscal year in Japan. Surprisingly, locals who choose to end their lives usually do not go into the forest to do so; Children raised near the Aokigahara forest are told it is a “scary forest” and are frightened out of venturing into The Sea of Trees.

 As of 2011, the most popular methods of suicide within the forest were hanging and overdose. Since 1970, an annual body search is held  just before the holiday season. Police and volunteers, usually accompanied by journalists, scour the forest in search of corpses. On average, 70 bodies are discovered and removed but it is believed many more people kill themselves, their remains never to be found.

 Conditions in the forest promote decomposition and those who commit suicide just after the annual search may be entirely decomposed by the next year [Learn more about The Seven Stages of Decomposition and how Biotic Decomposition can be hastened by environmental conditions].When a body is discovered in the forest by a tourist or employee, a forest worker carries the body to the local police station where the body is put into a special room specifically designated for victims of suicide.

 The ]forest worker must then remain with the body both day and night until it is laid to rest. If the body of a suicide victim is left alone, it is believed they will become a yurei (angry spirit). If this occurs, the spirit will scream throughout the night and the body will begin to move on its own.

Part of Aokigahara’s popularity as a suicide spot in modern times may be attributed to Seicho Matsumoto’s novel Kuroi Jukai (‘Tower of Waves’) which was published in 1960 and tells the story of a couple who commit suicide in the Aokigahara forest. In 1993 Wataru Tsurami published The Complete Manual of Suicide, describing Aokigahara as “The perfect place to commit suicide.”, and describing areas of the forest which are not usually visited by tourists or search teams recovering human remains, where a person’s body would never be disturbed and their suicidal act unable to be prevented by passerby. Today, Aokigahara is the #2 most popular spot in the world for committing suicide, second only to The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California. Signs have been posted around the perimeter and inside the forest, in both Japanese and English, urging visitors to seek help before ending their lives with messages such as, “Please consult the police before you die!”, “Your life is something precious that was given to you by your parents.”, “Meditate on your parents, siblings and your children once more. Do not be troubled alone.”,    and just incase those don’t do the trick, “Your corpse will be excreted by a bear.”. A local police officer stated, “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.”. 

 

The following video provides a look inside Aokigahara and additional information from a local who works inside ‘Suicide Forest’.

 


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