Nestled at the northwest base of Mount Fuji in Japan is an innocent enough looking forest that has a sinister and shocking past. Looking at pictures of the scenic Aokigahara, also known as the Sea of Trees, one might feel it would be a good place to soak up some beautiful and inspiring nature. Indeed it’s a popular tourist attraction for its well known Icy Cave and Windy Cave, as well as its mostly pristine and untouched by man environment. However just one look at the signs that dot the landscape may be enough to change your mind. Why? Aokigahara is the second most popular place to commit suicide in the world (next to the Golden Gate Bridge) and has seen thousands of such deaths in recorded history.
Many believe the popularity of the spot for suicide can be attributed to a well-known novel in Japan named Nami No To (Tower of Waves), because the book ends with two star crossed lovers killing themselves in the forest. However upon closer inspection, the history of suicide actually predates the novel’s publish date in the 1960’s and death has always seemed to walk hand in hand with the forest. As early as the 19th century the Aokigahara forest may have been a site for Ubasute, a custom that was allegedly performed in the distant past of Japan, where an infirm or elderly relative would be carried to a remote place and left to die by dehydration, starvation or exposure.
Today upon visiting Aokigahara you can find numerous signs, in English and Japanese, begging people to reconsider the worth of their lives. Indeed once a year, since 1970, a host of police and volunteers scour the forest for dead bodies, often finding many. Most of the suicides are done by hanging or drug overdose and the bodies are often left until found. It hasn’t been terribly uncommon for civilians on a site seeing expedition finding a decaying body strung from a tree. Talk about ruining your picnic.
So just how many suicides could we be talking here? Many years are unrecorded, but in the years following 1970 up to 1988 there were nearly 100 deaths in the woods YEARLY. In 2002, 78 bodies were found in the forest which beat the previous record of 74 in 1998. After 2003 the rate climbed to 100 which in recent years led to the local government to stop publicizing the numbers in an attempt to thwart the popularity of the forest and Aokigahara’s association with suicide. It didn’t work. The yearly investigation in 2004 turned up a staggering 108 suicides and in 2010, 247 people attempted suicide with 57 succeeding. Keep in mind these are the bodies that were found, how many bodies lie decomposing in untouched places of the 14 square mile forest we may never know.
As with any place as soaked in death as Aokigahara, people believe that the forest is deeply haunted and home to malicious demons. Yurei are the Japanese equivalent of our western spooks, that are trapped here by suicide or death in which the proper rituals have not been invoked to lay the spirit to rest. Until these rituals are complete or the spirit comes to terms with the strong feelings that gave rise to their haunting, they continue to linger in this world. It would make sense under these beliefs that Aokigahara would be absolutely filled with such Yurei. Basically imagine a bunch of angry spirits that look like that chick from The Ring running around a deep isolated forest, and you’ll get the idea of why I’m sleeping with the lights on tonight.
Aokigahara is an isolated location that is home to a dense population of trees blocking the wind and an absence of wildlife, making the forest eerily quiet. Add to that the number of tortured souls that have decided to end their lives among the fabled forest’s boughs and you have the perfect makings for a haunting. Is it actually haunted though? Many locals believe so and eyewitness reports are more than numerous. It’s said that entering the forest instills one with an overwhelming sense of sadness and melancholic depression. At night many have reported figures moving among the trees and shadowy figures appearing and disappearing before their eyes. The forest itself is easy to get lost in, especially at night, and can add to the terror that’s already instilled from the location. Some even believe that the forest itself conspires against the damned, drawing them in so that they may be lost as so many others. Honestly it’s more likely that any forest can be disorienting and doubly so at night, especially Aokigahara with its criss-crossing paths that have been made even more difficult to navigate by the yearly treks through it by officials.
Destination Truth, a popular SyFy show that explores the unknown, investigated the area and found numerous caches of personal items, apparently left behind before suicide. The team also encountered paranormal phenomoneon there, including capturing footage of what looks like a shadowy figure rising from the ground and quickly sinking back into it. The footage is ultimately inconclusive, but chilling to be sure, and poses more questions than it holds answers. Unfourtantely Aokigahara is haunted by another type of monster that the Destination Truth team might have ran across while on their investigation: grave robbers. Amongst the tourists that pervade the forest hoping to find a grisly and morbid sight missed by the annual patrols, are those searching to simply take from and dishonor the dead. This leads many who believe the forest is filled with spirits to think that this would anger the spirits even more and thereby increase the hauntings.
Whether Aokigahara is truly haunted or not, is up to the individual to decide based on personal encounters or various unsure evidence. Regardless, there is no denying that Aokigahara is not only a creepy place, but also a horribly sad one. Taking one’s own life is an act that is left only to the truly hopeless and desperate, those of which feel that there is no other way out. Knowing that so many people felt that way before taking their own lives in that very location; well, if there is truly a such thing as spirits, than surely they reside in the forest at the bottom of Mount Fuji.
If you, or someone you know, is considering suicide; please reach out for help. Those in the US can reach the fine folks at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Operators are standing by 24/7 to take your calls before you make a decision that could not only destroy your life, but the lives of those around you. Please know that you are NOT alone and someone CAN help.