The “Suicide Forest”
Although the world is filled with a number of strange and sinister places for despondent people to visit, there is one final destination site that is possibly the most disturbing of all. This is a different kind of tourist attraction than say that of the Golden Gate Bridge or the Eiffel Tower which are not just places that people go to kill themselves. Plus, rather than taking a plunge off of Japan’s Tojinbo “suicide cliffs”, the people with self-destructive urges who come to the Aokigahara “suicide forest” traditionally hang themselves, although now more people are choosing to overdose on drugs instead. Oddly enough, the whole thing started in the year 864 when Mount Fuji erupted and molten lava poured down onto the foot of the northwestern flank of the volcano, where it then dried and hardened. This is important because the rocks that were violently produced in the dark shadow of Mount Fuji can generate a specific kind of electric charge in response to applied mechanical stress. In addition to this, parts of the “Sea of Trees” that sprang up from this are very dense, and the porous lava absorbs sound, helping to provide visitors to the Aokigahara forest with a sense of extreme solitude. More to the point, the piezoelectric property of the place can affect brainwave activity causing or exacerbating the symptoms of depression in humans. This means that for more than a millennium, the very land itself has been making people want to kill themselves.
As the story goes, according to ancient Japanese legends, up into the 19th century, in times of famine, one’s elderly relatives were carried into the forest and left to die in a cruel practice known as “ubasute” which then resulted in “yurei”, the angry spirits of abandoned ancestors. To make matters worse, in 1961, Seicho Matsumoto published a rather controversial novel entitled Tower of Waves in which a love-torn heroine commits suicide in the woods at the base of Mount Fuji. This quickly popularized the site which has come to be known as the “suicide forest”. The book romanticized the almost preternatural thanatonic curse on the land, giving it a sort of erotic element in the process. Thanks to all of this perverse promotional publicity, there’s now an even more mysteriously macabre sensibility lingering in the air and seeping out of the dirt in that abysmal location. In fact, it’s so bad in the “suicide forest” that annual body searches have been conducted in the area by police, volunteers, and journalists since 1970. This is usually worst in March, which is the end of the fiscal year in Japan. In line with this, there have been about a hundred suicides reported there every year. In 2003, 105 bodies were found in the “suicide forest”, exceeding the previous record of 78 in 2002. However, a decade ago, in 2010, the police recorded more than 200 attempted suicides in the forest, of whom 54 completed the act. So, more people are trying but fewer people are dying.
Still, the overall body count just keeps rising, although I can’t tell by exactly how much because Japanese officials have stopped publicizing the numbers in an attempt to decrease Aokigahara’s association with suicide. Sometimes the bodies are hard to find, and that’s why many people go there. A Japanese psychiatrist named Dr. Yoshitomo Takahashi interviewed a number of Aokigahara suicide survivors and found that a key reason for them choosing the site was that “they believed that they would be able to die successfully without being noticed.” As such, the unholy woodland is continuously littered with the belongings of the deceased. Since hanging is the traditional method of killing oneself in the “suicide forest”, there are make-shift nooses hanging everywhere. Some people even set up tents, uncertain of whether or not they really want to die. Obviously, the black despondency of one's own personal death wish can vary from person to person. As such, there are lots of ribbons tied to the edge of the forest that are meant to show people the way out if they decide to turn back from their final walk and choose to live instead. To help facilitate this, there are even signs at Aokigahara that say things like: “Quietly think once more about your parents, siblings, or children” as well as “Please don’t suffer alone, and first reach out”. Local authorities have even posted security cameras at the entrances of the “suicide forest”, hoping to track those who walk inside, and get to them before it’s too late, but obviously they can’t catch everyone.
With that being said, I think most people should probably avoid visiting the “suicide forest” at all costs, just to be safe. That is unless death is really the only solution for whatever someone might be going through. As an advocate of one's right to die, I understand if there is simply nowhere else for one to turn, after all some lives aren’t worth living, especially after certain points, and there are always more lives to live. At the same time, life is very precious and people are always standing by at suicide hotlines waiting to talk to those in need of help. In either event, the “suicide forest” has a historical reputation of being the home of countless ghosts, so the point that I’m trying to make is that it’s not an ideal final destination for anyone. The myth of the angry ancestors has a bit of a euhemeristic history, so the warning it contains should not be ignored, to say the least. Countless people have entered those accursed woods, but many of them have never left. At the same time, of those who do make it out of the woods alive, only some of them come back as the same person. A few people who attempt suicide end up developing psychogenic amnesia, leading to a loss of personal identity. So, it seems as though the vile boscage can swallow the souls of the living, not just the dead. Then again, the dissociative state might be a function of self-preservation, serving as a substitute for suicide.
Either way, for the less fortunate victims of their own gloom and doom, long after their mortal bodies have rotted away, the immortal souls of the damned continue to linger in the “suicide forest”, lost in a state of limbo. In part, this is because in accordance with ancient Japanese funerary customs, if people’s remains don’t receive the last rites, then the souls of the damned become trapped on this plane of existence, thereby adding to the pull of death that others will feel in the presence of the “suicide forest”. Thus, in that rather dismal little corner of the world, every tragic death adds to even more death, in a vicious cycle that may last as long as Mount Fuji does. Provided that humans can remain extant for that long. With that being said, if you still want to go to the “suicide forest”, the thing to understand is that during the day the woods are far more haunted than at night because when the trees begin to dream their souls exteriorize from their bodies and the disembodied souls of the suicide victims then possess the tree’s temporarily. So, if you ever plan to visit Aokigahara on a ghost hunting expedition, my advice would be to go in the middle of the day because the suicide specters are far more aggressive toward people when the sun is out. Otherwise, it’s probably best if you just avoid the place altogether, for everyone’s sake. Some things are better left alone, and the “suicide forest” is definitely one of them.