Japanese myth may not be far from the truth in these woods. Local legend considers the forest a home for “yurei” or the ghosts of the dead. Located at the base of Mount Fuji, the forest has been a popular location to commit suicide for decades. In 2003 alone, there were 203 bodies found, a stark increase from 78 the year prior.
Park and government officials have since halted the release of death statistics, in hopes of quelling the numbers. Despite its reputation, the forest remains a popular destination for tourists and school trips. But why is the "suicide forest" so legendary?
1. How did Aokigahara get its fame?
Aokigahara Forest is the supposedly second most popular place to commit suicide, behind the Golden Gate Bridge. Records begin in the 1950s. Since then, around 500 people have wandered in without reemerging. In 1960, Seicho Matsumoto published a novel which ended in two lovers committing dual suicide in the forest. The book was titled Kuroi Jukai, or “Sea of Trees” and quickly evolved into a nickname for the forest. It is widely regarded as a catalyst for romanticizing death in the Aokigahara Forest.
2. What's the landscape of the suicide forest like?
Located at the base of Mount Fuji, the forest offers a stunning view of the mountain in places. In others, the tree canopy is so dense that, even at high noon, the forest floor is in darkness. Visitors are forced to tie a string to the main path should they venture off.
Because of its location at the foot of the mountain, there is nearly no sound within Aokigahara. Visitors have commented on the silence being overbearing. They only hear their own breathing and heartbeats. Much of the forest floor is composed of volcanic rock, and ice caves can be spotted throughout. Despite the seemingly endless stories of death haunting the forest’s name, one cannot ignore the sheer beauty of the landscape.
3. Are there actual spiritual beliefs surrounding the forest?
Even before stories of suicides, Japanese spiritualists favored the forest as a prime location for activity. Today, some believe that the spirits of those who have committed suicide have permeated into the trees. They say this generates an intense energy of paranormal activity that prevents many from leaving.
In other words, Aokigahara is cursed. To complicate this, tourists regularly complain of compasses being rendered useless due to the thick deposits of magnetic iron in the forest floor’s volcanic soil.
4. Are precautions taken to prevent further deaths in the suicide forest?
Absolutely. Plastered to the gates surrounding the entrances, park officials have posted signs reading in both Japanese and English, “Your life is a precious gift from your parents” and “Please consult the police before you decide to die!”
In an attempt to curb the suicide forest’s reputation, government officials have stopped releasing information regarding the number of deaths in the park. Rumor has it, there continue to be around 70 bodies found each year, but it’s difficult to say for certain.
5. Is Aokigahara really haunted?
There are many ghost and demon stories rooted in the forest. It is said these beings move between the trees in their pale, shifting forms, occasionally spotted by an unsuspecting visitor. But perhaps more haunting are the homemade nooses or strings leading into forest depths found by a visitor or park ranger. They make real the horrifying truth of the forest and lend to the general warning upon entering, “don’t follow the strings.”
6. What happens to bodies after they are found?
Most would agree forest workers have it worse than police. When found, bodies are put in a special room at the nearest ranger station meant specifically for corpses. The forest workers then play jan-ken-pon, or rock paper scissors, to determine who is to spend the night watching the corpse. It is believed to be very bad luck for the victim’s ghost for their corpse to be left alone. Legend says the spirits will scream through the night and their bodies will reanimate on their own.
7. What do the locals say about the suicide forest?
One local man has been repeatedly quoted saying, “It bugs the hell out of me that the area’s famous for being a suicide spot.”
A local police officer makes the reality of the situation known: “I’ve seen plenty of bodies that have been really badly decomposed, or been picked at by wild animals. There’s nothing beautiful about dying in there.” Generally locals claim they can easily spot three types of visitors: those interested in the scenic views of Mount Fuji, the curious hoping for a glimpse of the paranormal and those who don’t plan on leaving.
8. How many corpses are found annually?
By the 1970s, suicides had become so frequent in the park that police and park rangers began doing annual sweeps through the forest. 78 bodies were found in 2002, exceeding the previous record of 74 set in 1998. By 2003, the rate reached 100.
Since then the numbers become less reliable as the government stopped making the numbers public. We know in 2004, 108 people killed themselves in the forest. In 2010, 247 people attempted suicide within Aokigahara, 54 of whom were successful. The question on everyone’s mind is how many more are there that simply go undiscovered?
9. What is Aokigahara's national reputation?
Despite the mass numbers of people who die here each year, Aokigahara Forest and its nickname Suicide Forest are relatively little-known. It comes in number two for the most popular suicide destination behind the Golden Gate Bridge and gained its international fame from the publication of Matsumoto’s novel and the recent release of the horror film The Forest.
10. What do I need to know before visiting?
The forest is about two hours from Tokyo. Getting there is no problem, but understanding what you’re walking into before arriving is crucial. Awareness and respect of the dead is in your best interest. Several visitors have given accounts of seeing colorful strings or rope leading into the trees. Supposedly, those intending to commit suicide do this so their bodies will be found. It’s up to the visitor if they want to follow the strings, but be aware of what could be waiting on the other end.