Thursday, 25 February 2016


by Tasmin Nandu-Swatton

“I came here because nothing good ever happened in my life” reads part of a note left nailed to a tree in this infamous forest, site of the most suicides in Japan, Aokigahara, known to the locals as 'Jukai' (Sea of trees), is a vast and dense forest located at the base of Mt. Fuji. It is unknown as to just how many people end their own lives per year among the trees and shrubbery, however around 70 to 100 bodies were uncovered each year in the early 2000s. There is much speculation as to why so many choose Aokigahara as their final resting place however no one really knows the true answer. Yet many feel that the novel Kuroi Junkai published in 1960 by author Seicho Matsumoto, in which the heartbroken main character retreats to Aokigahara to end her life, acted as a trigger as it inspired a wave of copycat suicides. However, the macabre history of the forest spans back much further than that.

Aokigahara is rumoured to have once played host to a series of 'ubasate' (abandoning an old woman) victims. Ubusate was an alleged form of brutal euthanasia that took place in the feudal era of Japan during times of famine. Supposedly, an elderly relative would be carried by a younger member of the family into the mountains, the woods etc. and left to die. As a result of this, many believe that this forest is haunted by the victims of both Ubusate and suicide. The name of the forest alone is notorious enough in Japan to unsettle people when brought into conversation, as I myself learned when asking a few of my Japanese friends about it. I was met with questions such as “Is everything okay?!” “If you come here, you're not planning on going there to...are you?”. In no way had I implied going to the forest, I was simply asking about it out of curiosity. At the same time however, it is unsurprising that they assumed the worst given the reputation of such a place. They went on to talk about suicide in such a casual manner, that it would have shocked most Westerners. This is more than likely due to the fact that it is not particularly considered taboo in their culture due to a number of reasons. For example, the ancient tradition of 'seppeku' (a form of ritual suicide) performed by the Samurai and given the fact that Christianity hardly exists there, it would not be considered a sin.

Not only does the suggestion of the paranormal frighten most people away from it, the sheer vastness of it and the winding trees, makes it very easy to become lost. In fact, local children are told not to enter the forest, as they may find themselves unable to find their way back out again. There are specific marked trails that visitors/tourists should follow to avoid getting lost. If one were to wander off the trail they would come across wallets, shoes, notes and mobile phones amongst other things belonging to the deceased. Dolls nailed to trees as a symbol of contempt for society and tape wrapped around trees so that those who are not sure they want to take their own lives can find their way back out if necessary. Yet the worst of them all are the cars left to rust away in a nearby car-park, whose owners wandered into the woods never to return and the rope left hanging from trees.

It is important to note that Japan has one of the highest suicide rates out of all the countries in the world , with three times the rate in the UK. Most victims being males between 20-40 due to the stress of work and financial insecurity. It is also rife among boys and girls between the ages of 10-18 as a result of the constant pressure to perform exceptionally well from a young age due to the tough schooling system. In 2014, over 25,000 ended their own lives. Despite its history, and reputation, Aokigahara is a beautiful place and if you ever happen to be in Japan, pay a visit. Take an hour or so to walk through the forest and pay your respects to those who felt they couldn't go on and if you spot someone who looks as though they need a friend, go and talk to them and you might just be a hero.

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