Aokigahara is a dense forest that lies at the base of Mount Fuji in Japan. Many urban legends surround this forest, and some believe it to be haunted because of its tragic history as a suicide spot. Aokigahara Forest made news around the world in recent years after a controversial video made by a certain American YouTuber, but this forest has a much longer story. What is the history of this forest, and how has it come to take on such a notorious position in Japan today? Read on to learn more about Aokigahara Forest and how Japan is working to combat the problems faced here.
Known as the most famous forest 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 a Jukai – which simply means a “sea of trees’. The tree coverage is so thick that, even at 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, has turned into a common spot among the Japanese to end their life. And because of the silence (where you could hardly hear birds singing), many Japanese believe that the forest is haunted and dare not go nearby.
This 35-sq km forest is cold, rocky, and contains some 200 caves, of which a few, 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 making 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.
While you’re in an Internet rabbit hole investigating the deeper, darker corners of Japan’s history, society, and spirituality, here are 4 other abandoned locations that are thought of as haunted for various reasons.
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, and those planning 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 ends romantically with the lovers committing suicide in the forest, which revitalized the Suicide Forest’s popularity among those who wanted to end their life.
One could blame the novel for its dramatic ending, but the suicide history of Aokigahara started way before, as 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.
Local police stopped publishing the number of suicides that took place in Aokigahara, a way to downplay its popularity among those who seek to commit suicide and also a way to encourage more tourism 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 commit suicide in the forest, but only 54 of them “succeed”.
As such, local authorities have put up suicide prevention signs at the forest entrance. 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 seek to die would call for 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.
The Haunted Legend
In Japanese mythology, Aokigahara is known to be haunted by demons, a reason why some Japanese are still afraid of enter the forest. It is believed that those who enter the forest would never return.
This could be true, as even nowadays, many trekkers can easily lose their way in this dense forest. Furthermore, due to the magnetic iron in the volcanic soil area nearby, it often interferes in the function of compasses or mobile phones.
Another reason why people believed that the forest is haunted is due to yurei, or souls filled with hatred, sadness, and desire to revenge. According to legend, people bring their family members during famine to the forest and leave them to die there, in order to save their food for other family members. Those left in the forest would slowly die due to starvation, turning them into 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.
The belief in yurei continues to today. When a body is found in Aokigahara, forest guardians place it 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 move around screaming in the room. Hence, forest guards will play rock-paper-scissors to determine who the unlucky companion to the body is.
Aokigahara or the Suicide Forest is historically famous as yūrei’s shelter.
The yūrei, or as the West knows them – ghosts, are illustrations in the Japanese folklore meaning ‘spirit’ or ‘soul’. People contribute this to the number of people who have committed suicide in the forest.
The Suicide Forest is one of the world’s most popular suicide spot.
As reported, there were about 105 dead bodies from the forest in 2003. Due to its secluded location and numerous trees covering the place, it became a “suitable” place for various individuals to commit suicide.
There are two common ways to commit suicide in Aokigahara.
The most common way to commit suicide in Aokigahara is either by drug overdose or hanging. Based on the reports, suicide cases go up during the month of March, the end of the fiscal year in Japan.
The government stopped the publication for its death toll in 2011.
In 2010, the authorities have recorded at least 200 individuals that wanted to commit suicide in Aokigahara. However, as of 2011, the Japanese government stopped the announcement of the death toll in an attempt to promote the forest as an area of natural beauty instead of its notorious reputation.
Some victims camp in tents before committing suicide.
Every year, hundreds of people who wants to commit suicide go to Aokigahara and camp in tents. They camp there for a few days, pondering whether they would end their life or not. Fortunately, some of them on these “personal camping retreats” have decided to carry on with their life.
Mobile phones will work in the Aokigahara.
This debunks the belief that phones don’t work in Aokigahara because of magnetic iron. Mobile phone calls are actually working in most of its areas including the internet access. People can still call for help through their phones if ever they got lost.
Many believe that compasses will go haywire in Aokigahara.
Apart from mobile phones, many also thought that compasses do not work in the Suicide Forest due to its elements. However, people who have used a compass at a normal height didn’t have any problem.
Way back in medieval Japan, suicide is an honorable act.
During the feudal era (1185-1603 CE) in Japan, suicide is an act of honor. For instance, samurai warriors would rather take their own lives than to surrender or die in the hands of their enemy.
The Japanese Army trains in Aokigahara.
Since the mid-50s, the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force are conducting their ranger courses such as navigation training in Aokigahara. The Japan Ground Self-Defense Force is founded on July 1, 1954, and the biggest of the three services branches.
Suicide Forest tourists and hikers are using plastic tapes to secure their way out.
The Suicide Forest is full of trees and has many rocks, thus, everything looks almost the same. In recent years, Aokigahara’s visitors have begun using plastic tapes to mark their way. By doing so, it ensures their way out of the forest as well. Definitely one of the more useful Suicide Forest facts if you want to explore the forest.
Aokigahara has assigned trails leading to some tourist attractions near Mount Fuji.
There are pathways from the lush of Aokigahara to some tourist spots. Following these pathways will lead you to Lake Sai Bat Cave, Fugaku Wild Cave, and Narusawa Ice Cave. These are the three largest lava caves at the foot of Mount Fuji, with the latter two being popular tourist attractions. Narusawa Ice Cave is a frozen cave all year round, while Fugaku Wild Cave is home to silkworms.
You can find the small Japanese mole in Suicide Forest.
Aokigahara is home to the hundreds of small Japanese mole (Mogera imaizumii). The small Japanese mole came from the Talpidae family (digging animals such as desmans and shrew mole). This mammal is native to Japan. Though they are extinct in some places in the country, at Aokigahara, they live relatively well.
There are different mammals and numerous species of insects in Aokigahara.
Other mammals that live in Aokigahara are the Asian black bear, deer, wild rabbit, mice, boar, fox, Japanese squirrel, and Japanese mink. It is also home to various insects including ground beetles, numerous species of butterflies, and so much more.
The Suicide Forest has a diversity of bird species.
The Suicide Forest is perfect for birdwatchers or a person who enjoys observing birds in their natural environment. Here you can spot many bird species such as the Japanese white-eye, Japanese thrush, Siberian thrush, great spotted woodpecker, pygmy woodpecker, Eurasian jay, Japanese grosbeak, willow tit, long-tailed tit, great tit, and lesser cuckoo are just some to name a few.
You may spot dead bodies while hiking Aokigahara.
Apart from being an excellent spot for the birdwatchers, be warned that you should also be “brave enough” or mentally prepared for the possibility of spotting a dead human body.
Retrieval of the dead bodies is conducted every year.
The surge of suicide rates in the Forest has driven the authorities to put a sign at random places in Aokigahara urging suicidal individuals to ask for help instead of taking their lives.
Not all suicide victims are found.
Although there is an annual search for the dead bodies in Aokigahara, it’s common for a suicide victim’s body not to be found. The Suicide Forest’s density and its challenging terrain make it nearly impossible to retrieve all of the remains.
Seichō Matsumoto’s novel has helped Aokigahara to become popular.
The novel of Seichō Matsumoto, ‘Towering Waves’ (Nami no Tō) has boosted Aokigahara’s popularity. This book was launched in the early 60s. Since then, many people became curious and have aspired to visit Aokigahara.
You can find Aokigahara in video games, books, songs, films, etc.
Due to its nature and intriguing history, media around the world have featured Aokigahara in several forms. Video games, books, songs, films, literature, anime, and manga have already featured or referenced Aokigahara. Popular films, such as “The Forest” and “47 Ronin” have also been inspired by the story of Aokigahara.
Logan Paul made a costly mistake in Aokigahara.
In 2017, YouTube star, Logan Paul uploaded a travel vlog to his YouTube channel about his trip to Japan, particularly Aokigahara. He had included a corpse of a man who had died by hanging himself in the Suicide Forest. After receiving backlash from the public, he removed this video from his channel and uploaded a written apology on his Twitter, as well as an apology video on his YouTube channel. He was also removed from Google Preferred, and most of his sponsors have stopped working with him due to the incident. Eventually, he donated $1 million to Suicide Prevention Agencies and continued uploading his daily vlogs to his channel 3 weeks later after the controversy.