Rising from the ground on Japan’s Honshu Island, roughly 100 km SW of Tokyo, is the beautiful and majestic volcano known as Mount Fuji. It’s snow capped magnificence is portrayed in Japanese literature and art throughout history. 300,000 people climb Fuji every year. Travelers far and wide visit for it’s beauty and serenity. It is an active volcano that is thought to be ready to erupt most recently in 2013.
It’s name in itself means ‘immortal’ or ‘neverending’, it’s symbols are derived from ‘abundance’, ‘wealth’, and ‘a man with certain status’. Yet at it’s base, lies a beautiful and lush forest, named “The Sea of Trees”, Oikigahara, also known as the Jukai, thought to be cursed early on with demons, and oddly devoid of wildlife. It is the resting place that thousands have chosen to travel, take in their last moments, and in final desperation, take their own lives. This is the second most popular suicide location, only to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California.
The irony of this is not lost on me.
The forest itself is named Aokigahara. This beautiful and lush forest lies on a base of lava, This creates an eerie and spectacular vision of trees rooted above ground, vines intertwining throughout, and rocks covered in moss. The trees are enormous, and the forest itself so dense that the trees create a natural ceiling, that sometimes bows so low it’s difficult to crawl under. It is oddly silent, and extremely rare to even hear a bird chirp. The only wildlife that you can detect: the trees, and the insects that will feed off of the corpses. The sunlight shining through the mist within this forest creates a beauty and serenity that I can only compare to a natural gravesite. Or in this case, a thousand of them. It. Is. Surreal.
The forest itself covers 35 square kilometers of jagged, uneven, sharp lava ground. The moss and fallen foliage covers hazards like lava tubes and underground caves that people can, and do, become accidentally trapped in. Suicide is not the only means to an end here. Another unique feature this location boasts: LARGE underground iron deposits verified by NASA, that literally throw off all navigation via GPS, cell phone signals, and definitely make for quite a fun night of paranormal investigations, considering that no EMF sensitive equipment can’t possibly be accurate with this underfoot. These large magnetic deposits certainly explain the lack of wildlife as well… at least aviary wildlife, as their navigation is thrown off by this as well.
It is neighboring Saiko Lake, which also adds to the paranormal phenomena, as water tends to feed psychic phenomena in every form.
For the die hard para investigator, this goes against all rules of the game. Investigations don’t take place outside, because of contamination. Hardcore equipment will not give accurate readings there, so that’s completely off the table. You are left with old school audio and visual evidence collecting, in the woods, DEEP in these woods, where thousands have died in deep sorrow, or horrifically without a way out, trapped in lava features…passing from the elements alone.
Now for the creep factor and stats that will draw you in, just as it did me:
This epidemic of suicide was thought to start with the publication of Seicho Matsumoto’s novel Kuroi Kaiju, (The Sea of Black Trees), in 1960, which romanticized suicide in a place like this. This novel was followed up by yet another, yet far more morbid publication by author Waturu Tsurumui, called Complete Suicide Manual, which detailed this forest as the perfect place to commit suicide. Any media coverage of this location is followed up promptly by a spike in suicides there as well. It is estimated that on average there are 100 suicides in this forest every year, although that is downplayed by the government that vowed to cut the suicide rate in japan by at least 30 percent. The AUTHORITIES, on monthly sweeps, report twenty bodies each year, but those numbers do not reflect the bi monthly sweeps that the local volunteers conduct, as well as the suicides that are stumbled upon. And certainly those are only the bodies that are removed from the forest formally, however it is not uncommon to stumble upon human remains, scattered and intertwined with personal effects, just while hiking along on a Sunday afternoon for example. It must be noted though, that BEFORE these books were published, people used this location for 19th Century practice of “Ubasute”, where the elderly or ill were taken to a mountain or desolate location and left to die of dehydration or starvation.
Statistics show that the majority of suicides there are a result of hanging, followed closely in numbers are the drug overdoses, and then many drink themselves to death. The majority of this is circumstantial though, considering 80 percent of the corpses FOUND have deteriorated past the point that a cause of death would be decipherable. Pills laying next to bodies, or remains hanging from a noose is usually how they tell the tale.
Posted at the entrance and throughout the forest are signs…but these are not ordinary signs. They certainly don’t mark trail heads. They urge people to reconsider their choice to die. They beg them to think of their families. “Life is a gift from your parents…” They even urge them to contact police instead. “Don’t go through this alone…”
The forest is covered by multi colored tape. Please don’t feel like these strings of tape will lead to a family reunion already in tow! These are the tape lines for the people that have worked the forest and found bodies. These strings of tape each lead to a suicide location, and are so thick in some spots that it’s a threat to the ecosystem, yet they regularly clean it up to attempt to stay on top of the problem!
The forestry workers are trained specifically to deal with these suicides, and have a very fixed routine. There is a specific ranger station with two beds in it. The forest workers play a Japanese game of rock-paper-scissors to see who gets to sleep in that station after finding a corpse. “But that’s only one bunk taken up” you say? Well, the other is for the remains. According to Japanese religion, the suicides rise as yurei (unhappy ghosts) cannot sleep alone, or they will awaken and move to find regular sleeping quarters.
Most victims are left unclaimed. A lack of space has forced the Japanese government to store hundred’s of bodies in a protected building in the nearby village of Kamikuishiki, along with large piles of the decedent’s belongings. Vehicles regular sit in the parking lot for weeks before being towed out, after someone has driven to their final destination.
To me, though, the most macabre part of this entire location? No matter where you go in this forest, whichever path you take, you are walking in the final steps and seeing the last glimpses of a person that has ended it all. You will feel their sorrow, you may even cry for them. You will feel their presence as well. They are all still there. You are not alone, and you are watched always.