Aokigahara, The Suicide Forest

Suicide Forest is a place, located in Japan, that has received great media attention due to a strange coincidence: to be one of the places in the world with a high frequency of suicides.

Although Japan is not the country with the highest number of suicides per 100,000 inhabitants, it has a high suicide rate. Of the total suicides, around 70% are men. In 2009, the number of suicides in Japan amounted to 23,472 men, being the main cause of death in men between 20 and 44 years old. In the case of women, it is the main cause of death among those aged 15 to 34 years.

Suicide Forest, the reason for its name

Aokigahara it is one of the places chosen by those who want to cause their own death. The year 2003 was the deadliest, reaching the 105 bodies found. In 2010, 247 attempts were registered, of which 54 were fatal. Each year between 50 and 100 people attend.

Statistics say that this is the second place in the world where more people commit suicide (the first is the Golden Gate of San Francisco).

The incidence of suicides has worried the authorities who, in their effort to reverse the situation, have placed posters at the entrances of the forest offering help to visitors. Also, they have distributed materials in taxis, hotels and tourist places, along with the awareness of the inhabitants of the area to observe voluntarily strange behavior in visitors.

The place is very silent. It is a very dense forest and the trees prevent the wind from entering the place while shaking the tops of the trees. Wildlife is almost non-existent. Inside there are many caves.

Japanese mythology, cultural traditions, literature and other cultural manifestations, such as cinema, have fostered a vision of the Suicide Forest as a place that welcomes spirits and places of death.

In Kojiki (year 712) old and mythological stories are collected, among other topics is the one that talks about Yomi. The Yomi, the dark land of the dead, is the place where the dead dwell after his death and once the dead have eaten in it, it is impossible to return to the land of the living. In the limits of the Kojiki, some creatures prevent the exit of those who are in the underworld.

Kojiki would have geographical continuity with this world and can not be considered as a paradise, or as hell, it is a dark place to which all dead human beings go, whatever their condition and behavior.

Kojiki picks up the legend of Izanagi’s trip to Yomi to look for his late beloved Izanami (both are creative deities). In the narrative, the Yomi is described as a place of suffocating darkness and shadows that hide the appearance of the dead.

While the Suicide Forest was formed some 200 years after the publication of the Kojiki, so it would not be the legendary Yomi, the characteristics that the site gathers could be enough to consider it as a manifestation of the underworld. This forest is not only interesting because of this coincidence. Many other aspects can be considered unique and to which attention should also be paid.

Aokigahara and the ubasute

ubasute (姥捨て), in the case of elderly women, or the oyasute (親捨て), in the case of a father or relative, they were customs allegedly practiced in feudal Japan, according to which a person with limited abilities due to age or illness was taken to the mountain where he was left to die. This custom was exercised in times of famine or drought.

Apparently, the Suicide Forest, in the nineteenth century, was a place of ubasute practice by families with scarce resources from neighboring villages. Hence, popular religiosity speaks of the presence of spirits in this place.

This custom has been fictionalized in The Ballad of Narayama (楢山節考: Narayama Bushiko) in 1956 by Sichiro Fukazawa, which was the basis on which two homonymous films were filmed in 1963 and 1983.

The Suicide Forest in literature and cinema

The image of the enchanted and somewhat spooky forest of Aokigahara is the result of literature and cinema. This vision tarnishes the vision of reality forged over the centuries by Japanese culture. The books that have marked the most this chilling vision were published in:

  • 1960, Seicho Matsumoto, in his novel Tower of Waves (Nami no Tou) tells a love story that ends with the suicide of the lovers in the Suicide Forest.
  • 1993, the book titled The Complete Manual of Suicide (Kanzen Jisatsu Manyuaru), written by Wataru Tsurumi, in which this place is recommended to take your own life.
  • 2017, Carlos Páez S., publishes the novel Kuroi Jukai set in the 16th century where, among other things, it narrates the protagonist’s visit to the Aokigahara forest.

The films that have most influenced the dramatic-almost-terrifying vision are:

  • Aokigahara, by Taku Shinjou (2012). It shows a point of view of drama and mystery.
  • The Sea of Trees, by Gus Van Sant (2015). It offers a dramatic view of the forest and what it represents.
  • The Forest, by Jason Zada (2016). Expose the issue by mixing the dramatic and mystery genres.

We can not leave out the influence of this place in artistic genres such as:

  • Anime, in titles like Saint Seiya, Kenyū Densetsu Yaiba, Mazinger Z, Transformers: Super-God Masterforce, Kurosagi Shitai Takuhaibin, …
  • Video games, like Fatal Frame Saga and Akatsuki Blitzkampf.

Location of Aokigahara

Aokigahara (青木ヶ原) means “Sea of Trees”. It is a very extensive forest located at the base of Mount Fuji.

Mount Fuji, Located on the island of Honshu, about 120 km west of Tokyo, it is the highest peak in Japan. This volcano, active but with low risk of eruption, is considered a sacred place. It is the national symbol of Japan and is a recurring theme in Japanese art and literature.

In the northwest of the base of Mount Fuji, in the area of the five lakes, between the prefectures of Yamanashi and Shizuoka, on the shores of Lake Sai, is the Suicide Forest.

Nature of the Suicide Forest

Aokigahara it was formed from the volcanic eruptions of Mount Fuji produced between the ninth and eleventh centuries. Part of these eruptions entered a pre-existing lake and divided it into three. On these mantles of lava arose the forest.

The hardness and consistency of the lava led, on the one hand, to the formation of caves and caves; on the other, the development of a temperate forest of hardwood.

The forest is intact especially inside, from 1 to 2 km from its outer limits.

Given the hardness of the soil, the trees of the Suicide Forest do not bury the roots, but branch off the surface, giving rise to striking root and leaf formations. The forest is very leafy and dense, so the wind affects only the tops of the trees, and with little wildlife. All this gives the Aokigahara certain tints of mystery and a high probability of getting lost in it.

Visit Aokigahara

The whole of Mount Fuji is a landscape of great beauty. Leaving aside the morbid aspects of the Suicide Forest, it is worth visiting this area for its scenic beauty, naturalistic and cultural elements.

In this area it is also worth visiting:

Saiko Lake, where we can enjoy: the network of hiking trails that take us to the surrounding mountains, tourist activities and accommodations.

Bats Cave. With interesting formations on the lava.

Birds Forest. It is a park with wild birds.

Fugaku Wind Cave. This cave has been declared a natural monument of Japan. One of its main features is to maintain an average annual temperature of three degrees Celsius, this allows you to see ice floes along with lava during the summer. The visit to the cave lasts 15 minutes.

Whether it is because of the black legend that accompanies it, or because of its landscape and cultural value, visiting this part of the geography of Japan will offer us great possibilities for learning and enjoyment.