WARNING: The information and images provided in this post are extremely graphic. Not suitable for children or those who feel uneasy about death.
Suicide in Japan used to be known as a samurai’s act. Seppuku, also known less formally as harakiri, is a ritual suicide that involves slicing open the stomach. This act was believed to instantly release their souls into the afterlife.
These days, annual suicide rates are at least 30,000, hovering around 24 suicides per 100,000 people. Government figures suggest that the underlying motivation for the majority of these deaths was work related depression, or Karoshi.
Located at the base of Mount Fuji, fewer than 100 miles west of the busy grind of Tokyo, lies Aokigahara. Also known as Jukai, or “Sea of Trees,” Aokigahara is a forbidden and silent forest. This place is not only infamous for its breathtaking views of the mountain and The Ice Cave and the Wind Cave, it has long been associated with death and suicide.
Up into the 19th century, poor families would abandon their elders among the trees and leave them to die. This was known as ubasute.
But Aokigahara is also the world’s second most common place people take their own lives — the first is San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.
It’s known as the “suicide forest.”
One theory suggests that people choose to take their life here because of Seichō Matsumoto’s novel titled Kuroi Jukai. Within the pages of this book, a twisted tale tells of a woman who has a love affair with a young public prosecutor. Once being blackmailed by the woman’s husband, the only way the two of them could be together was in the afterlife, which led to a double suicide in the dark and inexplicable forest.
Since its release in 1960, depressed Japanese citizens have been walking into the forest and hundreds, maybe even thousands, never wandered out. Each year, anywhere from 50 to 100 people take their lives here, mainly from hanging themselves.
Wataru Tsurumui’s controversial bestseller, The Complete Suicide Manual, described the forest as “the perfect place to die”. Some victims found in the forest, which lacks any signs of wildlife, had the book in their possession.
In recent years, the local government has made an effort to stop publicizing the actual numbers in order to downplay the phenomenon.
Spiritualists believe that the mass suicides have seeped into Aokigahara’s trees, causing paranormal activity, which allegedly prevents those who drift into the forest’s depths from ever escaping. Due to the centuries of suicides, these trees may be filled with spiteful energy. Many have easily become lost, never being able to find their way out. The forest also contains collapsed lava tubes and hidden caves, making the landscape all the more treacherous.
Supposedly, due to the fact that this vast forest lies on top of old lava fields from ancient eruptions of Mount Fuji, magnetic iron deposits from the area’s volcanic soil are said to render compasses and GPS units completely useless.
Visitors have also reported seeing apparitions and shadows between the trees. Others admit to hearing the howl of a lost soul or Yurei screaming in the wind.
Throughout the forest, police have mounted signs that read: “Your life is a precious gift from your parents. Please consult the police before you decide to die!”
Those who are hesitant about committing suicide after crossing into the woodland leave ribbon markers on the trees so that they will be able to find their way back out. The forest is littered with these indicators.
Today, Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, doubling that of the US. Although, the reason why so many people take their lives remains as elusive and mysterious as the souls that will forever wander through Aokigahara.
If you’re interested, Vice did a short documentary on Aokigahara. You can check it out below.
If you or someone you know is in a crisis, please call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.