Northwest in the shadow of the majestic Mount Fuji, lies a sprawling 13.5 square miles of Aokigahara, a forest so thick is has become known as the ‘Sea of Trees’. The forest of Aokigahara thrives on an area of 30 sq km of hardened lava, which was laid down during Fujisan’s last major eruption in 864 CE. The western edge of Aokigahara, where there are several caves that fill with ice in winter, is a popular destination for tourists and school trips.
Historically, Aokigahara was said to be haunted by yurei, or ghosts from Japanese mythology. It’s become known as one of the world’s most popular suicide sites in recent years (the Golden Gate Bridge is currently ranked number one) – after a spate of hangings and drug overdoses in the area.
According to Japanese lore, those who leave this earth in a way deemed unnatural are doomed to remain on earth as wandering specters.
The site’s popularity has been attributed to Seicho Matsumoto’s 1961 novel Kuro Jukai, in which a heartbroken lover retreats to the Sea of Trees to end her life. This romantic-themed story has a detrimental and sinister influence on Japanese culture. Also, looped into these legends : The Complete Suicide Manual, dubs Aokigahar “the perfect place to die.” This book has been found among the abandoned possessions of numerous suicide victims. In 2003, 105 bodies were found in the forest, exceeding the previous record of 78 in 2002. Officials note the most common method of suicide is by hanging.
In January 2018, the forest gained international attention after a Youtuber filmed and broadcasted a hanging suicide victim’s body on his popular channel.
Chillingly, Japanese authorities have been forced to erect signs at the start of some trails – urging suicidal visitors to think of their families, and contact a suicide prevention charity. There are some people, however, who enter the forest with the intention of not coming out.
At the entrance of the forest, a sign reminds visitors that “life is a precious gift” from their parents.
“Quietly think once more about your parents, siblings or children,” the sign says in Japanese. “Please don’t suffer alone, and first reach out.”
The government has since stopped publicizing the number of suicides in Aokigahara in recent years – in a bid to change the forests reputation of being associated with suicide. News outlets have noted the recent spike in suicides in the forest, blaming them more on Japan’s recent economic downturn than on the romantic ending of Seicho Matsumoto’s novel, which revitalized the so-called suicide forest’s popularity among those determined to take their final stroll.