You have a place where you sleep, possibly with hookers. You have a place where you poop, also possibly with hookers. You have a place where you eat, hopefully not with hookers, as many of them have poor table manners. But do you have a place where you off yourself? Well, the Japanese do.
Aokigahara Forest is the world-famous Japanese suicide forest, home to an estimated 2,000 suicides every single year. Okay, not really, it’s more like 100+, but that caught your attention, didn’t it? 100 suicides doesn’t sound like many, but when you consider that most people just kill themselves at home, and even other famous suicide spots like the Golden Gate Bridge only have about 30 per year, it starts to sound pretty wild.
“Someday, Aokigahara. Someday, I will be number 1 again.”
It’s been called “The perfect place to die”, and it’s gotten so bad since the recession began that Japanese officials have stopped releasing the exact number of people who die there each year, fearing that the forest’s infamy will just entice more people who are considering killing themselves to head out that way. And make no mistake, suicide is a big deal in Japan: it has the highest rate of any first-world country. Since the 1990s there have been years where rates increased over 30%. At least 30,000 people have died by their own hand there each year for 12 years straight. It’s a massive cultural problem and the Japanese government has become concerned that their society is becoming so inundated with suicidal thoughts and behaviors that one can lead to others just because it’s popular.
“If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would y… oh.”
And 100 suicides a year in Aokigahara might be a low estimate. The forest is so large, thick, and inaccessible that many bodies don’t get discovered for months, or even years. Some parts are so dense that sunlight can’t penetrate (tee hee, penetrate) the canopy, even in the middle of the day. Corpses also tend to be eaten or dragged off by animals, and in some cases, the cause of death is ambiguous, and so it can’t be reasonably assumed to be suicide. Forest workers will have mass hunts for bodies at the beginning of each year, gathering hundreds of volunteers to help go through the thick, expansive woods, just searching for the dead. (If one is found during normal operations throughout the year, they’re taken to the forest station, where a room with an empty bed is set aside just for the dead. To make shit even creepier, there’s another bed that the forest workers are made to sleep in. Otherwise, superstition says that the body will scream all night and haunt the forest for eternity.) Although there are walking paths, much of the forest is off said paths, and many of the people coming to kill themselves are far more likely to go off the paths and travel deep in the forest. Large hills and sinkholes also tend to make a simple walk from one end to the other nearly impossible.
It’s like some fucked up version of “Where’s Waldo?”
So what’s made this place such a popular last thing to ever see? Well, it is nice looking. I mean, besides all the dead folks. Some say that it’s related to an extremely popular Japanese romance novel released in the 1960s, “Kuroi Jukai” (Lit. “The Black Sea of Trees”, a nickname for the forest), which ends with a couple visiting the forest to commit a joint suicide. The novel portrays the act as beautiful and romantic, for which some blame for the current reputation of the forest. And culturally, Japan has never had a major issue with suicide. It’s never been illegal, nor has it even been considered morally questionable for the most part, until recent times.
Even before the 60s, however, folklore stated that the forest was haunted. It’s rumored that it was once a popular location for Ubasute, a cultural practice (once believed common, but now known to have been far less so) that involved taking the elderly out to secluded locations and leaving them to die.
“Peace out, grandma.”
Another factor is that the forest is located directly in front of Mt. Fuji, long-considered sacred in Japanese culture. But whether it was the novel, or the history, or the religious significance, or some combination of all of those that started Aokigahara’s history of death, its momentum is only getting more powerful. Some spiritualists say that the mass number of suicides committed there since the 60s has caused the forest to become tainted, and that sadness and evil now permeate the roots of the trees there. The Japanese government is of the opinion that people just need a little convincing to stop killing themselves there (and stop killing themselves in general, but, you know, baby steps). As a preventative measure, they’ve erected signs all along the walking trails, asking visitors to think about their lives before deciding to die.
“MY FRIEND BOB SAID SUICIDE IS TOTALLY NOT COOL.”
So far, though, it hasn’t helped much, as the number of bodies found in the forest is increasing, sometimes doubling from year to year. Even people from other countries have taken to coming to the forest after hearing about it. A Canadian man interviewed by Japanese journalists said, “I heard about it on the internet. It just sounded like such a beautiful place. I wanted it to be the last thing I ever saw.” Locals say that they can tell who’s coming just to look at the forest, who’s hunting for bodies and scavenging for left-behind wallets and personal effects, and who’s there to die.
If you really want to see a series of pictures from the forest that a pair of hikers took, click here. (Definitely not work safe, possibly not lunch safe depending on your gastronomical fortitude.)