The Aokigahara Forest in Japan

Welcome back, fellow humans!

This blog post contains sensitive and potentially upsetting content about mental health and suicide. If this topic is difficult, please proceed with caution or simply stop reading.

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Francesca Di Marco, an author of Suicide in Twentieth-Century Japan, said Aokigahara constructed “a myth out of what actually should be seen as a pathology.”

Aokigahara is a forest on the north-western region of Japan’s Mount Fuji, blossoming on 30 square kilometres of solidified lava from the last major eruption of Mount Fuji in 864 CE. The infamous forest is very dense, and the porous lava absorbs noise, thus offering visitors with a feeling of isolation. Tourists are always fascinated by the dense trees, tangled roots, and tough grounds of Mount Fuji, the thrill-seeking visitors are expecting to view the macabre side of the forest and finally, the poor souls who make the one-way journey to the forest to never to return. It has earned a negative recognition by being known as the ‘suicide forest’, because of the suicides that take place in the forest on a yearly basis. The forest was featured in a Vice documentary as well as two badly regarded Hollywood films: 2015’s The Sea of Trees, and 2016’s The Forest

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Is the forest’s natural beauty obscured by the paranormal and startling stories? 

As early as the 1950s, visitors reported confronting bodies of suicide victims in Aokigahara. Undeniably, the generally common methods of suicide in the forest are hanging and drug overdose. In 1960, Seicho Matsumoto published his famous novel Tower of Waves (Kuroi Jukai) a.k.a. The Black Sea of Trees, in which the charming heroine, who is entangled in a publicly unfavourable relationship, heading into the Aokigahara forest to end her life. This romantic description showed a pivotal and disturbing influence on Japanese culture. Also, entwined into this folklore: The Complete Suicide Manual (Kanzen Jisatsu Manyuaru) wrote by Wataru Tsurumui’s, which illustrates numerous methods of suicide and even suggests Aokigahara as the picture-perfect location to perish. The novel was found among the forsaken properties of countless Suicide Forest visitors. A local patrol officer said, “I have seen plenty of bodies that have been really badly decomposed, or been picked at by wild animals. There is nothing beautiful about dying in there.

In the 1800s, it was a prevalent destination for exercising Ubasute (senicide), which is a vicious and uncommon practice of euthanasia. It was seen as a last resort in dire times of famine, where a family would abandon an elderly relative on an isolated or rough location to die of dehydration, hunger, or exposure, in order to reduce the number of mouths to feed. Nevertheless, few claimed that this was a fictional tradition. In the Japanese belief, if a person dies in deep-seated hate, anger, sorrow, or yearning for retribution, their soul lingers in the world. These souls are called yurei, they seek for nothing in particular. Yurei tends to cut the tapes that are used as a pathfinder to make them lose their path inside the eerie forest. According to local reports, forest workers carry the bodies from the forest to the local police station, where they are placed in a designated room to retain suicide corpses and if the body is left on its own, its yurei wanders, screaming in the room. Japanese spiritualists believe that these suicides have penetrated Aokigahara’s trees, which in response has contributed to the onset of the paranormal activities.

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“Suicide is an extremely complex phenomenon with multiple factors”.

In many countries, suicide is unlawful or mainly intolerable on religious or other righteous reasons, but in Japan, there is no such disgrace, however, it is even glorified because of such terms for suicide is ‘jiketsu‘ (to decide for yourself). In the medieval era in Japan, samurai warriors would rather commit suicide, seppuku (ritual disembowelling) to defend their honour and dignity than to be vanquished by their enemy. Even during World War II, Kamikaze, the Special Attack Group sacrificed themselves for their country was regarded as dutiful and admired. Nowadays, seppuku culture is practised, not for honourable reasons, but to take responsibility for not fitting into society.

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Mental health awareness has also been an issue either suffers are overlooked or ostracised all together and seen as being a burden and costing the community. Males are more likely to commit suicide in Japan because of divorce or unemployment. There is a constant stigma around obtaining mental health care, especially for men. Youth suicides have increased from past years due to failure to achieve high expectations and academically pressures put on them by their families. In 2016, Japan has noticed declining rates, 21,897 people committed suicide, the lowest possible level in more than two decades. Over the few years, the local authorities have taken numerous actions to prevent suicides in Aokigahara by raising the height of bridge rails, preventing movies and TV shows that promote the forest’s negative reputation, installing security cameras,  increased patrols by police and teams of volunteers to rescue people or recover the bodies of those whom they could not save. However, many believe that local police are unwilling to release or downplaying the number of suicides in order to encourage more tourism.

Messages such as “Please consult the police before you decide to die” and “Your life is a precious gift from your parents” are displayed all through the forest to discourage individuals who may be indecisive. At the end of the signs, there is a helpline telephone number, trusting that the lost souls would call for help.

As you can see in the below pictures, there are moss-covered clothing and shoes, personal belongings scattered throughout the forest floor.

Hideo Watanabe runs a shop at the entrance of the forest, he said a young woman tried to kill herself but failed so “made her some tea and called an ambulance. A few kind words can go a long way.” Showzen Yamashita, a priest who highlighted the lack of support systems in Japan and highly increasing suicide. He regularly performs Buddhist rites in the forest to pray for the afterlife and tranquillity of the ones who died there over the years, he said, “They have no one to talk to, no one to share the pain, the suffering.”

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Have you visited Aokigahara? 

A scandalous video by an American YouTuber showed a body hanging from a tree in Aokigahara forest. The body will remain a faceless agent of an epidemic that countless only ever partly care about. The video ignited wide criticism for its racialized exploitation and tone-deaf demonstration of suicide and mental health by monetizing it through YouTube in a country where suicide rates are higher than in the most developed world. Depression, serious illness, social shame, financial stress, isolation, and unemployment are among the common reasons for suicides. The western perception often belittles or erases the mental illness among people of colour, depriving the sufferer of a voice, or being seen as unwanted and grotesque.

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What does this incident tell us about how we view suicide?

The Aokigahara Forest helps us to discover there is still an exceptional number of neglected issues with mental health and suicide awareness problems in the world and not just Japan. All of us need to be kind and open-hearted to those who are suffering.

Please, if you are battling with thoughts of suicide, there are worldwide resources accessible, 24/7 to anyone in distress.

1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_suicide_crisis_lines

2) https://www.suicidestop.com/call_a_hotline.html

Thank you for reading, fellow humans. 

75 thoughts on “The Aokigahara Forest in Japan

  1. Ive heard a lot about this place in Japan and depression is a major cause. Japanese are really workaholic, and I have so many Japanese friends who are so kind and polite – too kind that they don’t show you if they are already upset. That’s the reason why they keep everything to themselves until the day that they’re gonna burst. this is so sad really…

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  2. I have heard of this earlier, it is actually creepy. But I feel that it is basically the negative vibes that work.

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  3. I’ve heard about this spot. Scary. I think a youtuber went there and actually filmed a body and got in trouble for it, as well he should. I hate that something like this is out there.

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  4. I’ve read and watched everything on this forest. It’s so freaky to me but also sad that people go here specifically to end their lives. I’m sure if these woods could talk they’d have some stories to tell.

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  5. I hope there will be an end to the stigma of mental health and getting help for issues like depression. Something needs to happen soon over there, heck something needs to be done in that regard all over the world. What a grizzly place! Blessings!

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  6. To me this is so much more scary than the Hoia Baciu Forest from Romania and not because is hunted or something like that but because so many people went there and decide to commit suicide. I don’t think I want to visit.

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  7. I’ve never been to such a place before! However, I think it is a good idea if it prevents people from committing suicides. 🙂

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  8. I did see the movie “The Forest” and yes it was terrible. I had no idea or didn’t realize it was based or trying to be based on a real location. I do remember that “YouTube” incident. I can’t believe how dumb that YouTuber was.

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  9. The statistics of suicide each year are shocking. Particularly when we consider the awareness of mental health and help that is available today. Photos taken within Aokigahara shows it to be a naturally beautiful place. It is such a tragedy that so many people choose to end their lives here and I hope more work in this region is being done to help those in need.

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  10. Someone actually wrote a complete suicide manual!?! Jeez! How macabre! I’ve read a lot on this forest and I believe too that the souls of the poor victims are trapped in that forest forever.

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  11. This was really sad for me to read. However, I appreciate the fact that you are addressing this important issue on suicide and mental health. Thank you so much for sharing.

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  12. Looks like a very beautiful forest but indeed got an eerie vibe to it as well. Some very fascinating points mentioned here ! Thank you for creating more awareness and talking about mental health issues. This is so relevant to us as a society.

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  13. I don’t think that I would like to visit this place but reading about it has been fascinating. It is heartbreaking to know how many people commit suicide all over the world.

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  14. suicide is the major problem not only of that place but in most of other places of world too…i have heard a lot of these types of stories…this forest looks much interesting but it really looks scary too…

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  15. Super creepy!!! All those that have died are haunting this forest. The Aokigahara Forest in Japan is probably most known for all the suicides. I believe there is also a movie about it.

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  16. I have heard about this forest in Japan. It was in a documentary I saw. Suicide is something that is close to me. My sister’s boyfriend committed suicide about 2 years ago. It hit hard. Love that you gave resources about this!!!!🤗

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  17. I Heard this aokigahara forest from my boss and he tell me about the myth of this place. Most of people going there they doing suicide. The Yurei is ghosts of the dead in Japanese mythology.

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  18. I haven’t been to this forest, but I am keen to visit this along with a reliable local guide. The story is indeed very depressing, but come to think of it, this is one of the most luscious and rich forests of Japan.

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    1. This is so sad. Thank you for writing about this, and for your warning at the beginning- many aren’t as kind to put that first.

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  19. Every time I visit your blog, I learn something new and this is no exception. This time the forest in Japan. I can’t wait to read more!

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  20. I remember the scandal with the Youtuber posting that video, he lost so much with his bad choice. I would not go to visit this forest, I think it’s too macabre.

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  21. Of course, I have heard about the suicide forest out there. Definitely, getting someone to talk to is an important thing. When you are feeling that low, reaching out is important. I hope this time of isolation doesn’t push too many people over the edge and make them feel isolated.

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  22. I already knew that this Forest is the most scary forest in the world because of so many suicides. And it’s a good place to visit too!

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  23. It’s heartbreaking when I learned the story about this forest. So many lives have been lost. We went to Japan last March but wasn’t able to visit this. I’ll include this in my list when we go there again next year.

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