There are few places in the world that conjure up feelings of sorrow, pity, fear, and ultimately fascination as Aokigahara Forest in Japan. Also called the ‘Sea of Trees’, this dense woodland at the base of Mount Fuji has the unfortunate fame of being one of the most well-known places to commit suicide in the world. It is known to be haunted by the ghosts of the hundreds who have died there.
Aokigahara Forest is the most popular place to commit suicide in the whole of Japan; in fact it is only second to the Golden Gate Bridge in the world. Since records began being taken in the 1950’s, over 500 people have taken their own lives amongst its trees, most by hanging, some by overdoses or other methods. The gruesome trend supposedly began after the publication of Seicho Matsumoto’s novel Kuroi Kaiju (Black Sea of Trees) where two of his characters commit suicide at Aokigahara, however the history of suicide predates this and the forest has had an association with death for a long time.
Due to the high numbers of incidents, the unenviable task of an annual body search began in 1970, consisting of a small collection of police, volunteers, and a few journalists. These groups follow official and unofficial forest trails as well as going off the beaten track to recover bodies and mark the places with tape – this tape is never removed. They have found over 100 corpses per year in recent times, but who knows how many they never find? The first kilometer in is where most of the bodies are found, and some people are saved from their attempt, but those who are determined tend to walk a long way into the woods.
These lost souls are said to haunt the forest, which is in itself a very eerie place. The densely packed trees mean that there are parts that are in continual darkness, the light blocked out by the foliage. Due to the closely growing trees there is hardly any wind and an odd absence of wildlife gives the forest a silent, foreboding atmosphere. The ghosts of people who took their own lives are likely to be troubled, unable to rest, and there have been many reports of spooky encounters.
Due in part to its reputation, the Aokigahara Forest is a popular tourist destination as is Mount Fuji itself. People have talked of the feeling of being watched, followed and taunted by unseen entities as well as hearing sounds which can’t be explained.
The trend of suicides at Aokigahara doesn’t seem likely to diminish any time soon. The Japanese government has tried to dissuade people by employing officials to position signs, in both Japanese and English, urging those who have gone to the woods in order to commit suicide to seek help, think of their families and not kill themselves. Whether it is due to folklore, the draw of a novel or the fame that precedes it, the lost souls of Aokigahara Forest will most likely continue to grow in number for the foreseeable future.