The haunting story about how Aokigahara forest on the footsteps of Mount Fuji became Japan's suicide forest where over 100 people kill themselves a year.
At the foot of Mount Fuji, the highest mountain peak in Japan, sprawls a 30 square kilometer forest called Aokigahara.
More commonly referred to as the Sea of Trees, Aokigahara is a forest of unbridled beauty and serenity. Upon entering the region, one must wade through a thicket of trees, slipping over the knotted roots and rocks, to access amazing vantage points to view Mount Fuji and explore hidden icy caverns.
In the forest, one is also completely shrouded in darkness – save for the sporadic stream of sunlight from gaps in the treetops – and experiences an overwhelming silence, pressing in from all sides.
As such, it’s a perfect place for solitude and reflection and correspondingly, is the perfect place to die. At least according to the 100 people who commit suicide here every year.
Aokigahara has always been dogged with morbid myths and legends. It is widely believed that the Japanese custom of ubasute, where an elderly relative is left to die in a remote location, was widely practiced in the forest.
Aside from tales of ubasute, rumors of demons and hauntings in the forest are also pervasive. The more recent tag of the “Suicide Forest” began to dog the region after tourists began to encounter decomposing bodies in Aokigahara in the 1950s. Since the early 1970s, a small army of police, volunteers and journalists annually scour the area in search of bodies.
It is believed that the penchant for suicide in the area stems from the 1960 novel, ‘Wave of Trees’ by Seicho Matsumoto, in which the protagonists commit suicide in Aokigahara forest.
The death rate has shown a significant annual increase, reaching a peak in 2004 when 108 people committed suicide in the forest. The sight of hanging bodies in the forest is common, as is the sight of animals feeding on yet undiscovered corpses.
Currently, Aokigahara is considered the second most popular suicide location in the world, losing out only to the Golden Gate Bridge. Authorities have placed signs emblazoned with warnings, “Please reconsider” and “Think carefully about your children, your family”, at the entrance of the forest:
In 2010, 247 people attempted suicide in the forest, though only 54 were successful. A disquieting reminder of the forest troubled history are the scattered personal belongings found throughout the forest from previous suicides. Moss covered shoes, photographs, briefcases, notes and ripped clothing have all been discovered strewn across the forest floor.
Enjoy this haunting look inside Japan’s suicide forest? Then check out our other posts on Medieval torture devices and creepy GIFs that will make your skin crawl! Then, read up on R. Budd Dwyer, the American politician who killed himself in front of television cameras.