Aokigahara (青木ヶ原) is a forest located in the foothills of Mt. Fuji in the Yamanashi Prefecture. Before obtaining the name of “Suicide Forest”, this mysterious place was called Jukai, 樹海, meaning “the Sea of Trees”.
It’s known to be the most well-known suicide destination in Japan and also in the world. It’s the number two place with the highest number of suicide, after the Golden Gate Bridge, in California. This might sound a little eerie. As the forest is very lush and wide, some corpses can go undiscovered for years. Thus, the statistics about the deaths there sometimes vary.
Why Aokigahara is called “the Sea of Trees”
Aokigahara is not like any other typical forest. Because of its igneous rock soil, produced by the last eruption of Mount Fuji, the ground is rough and bumpy. Several caves lie deep under the ground perforated by widespread roots. The trees here are mostly conifers, cypresses, and shrubs growing for 100 years or more. Thanks to this, Aokigahara is also well known by people who like bird-watching and walking in nature.
However, the trees are dense and the lack of human presence in the overall space is the reason this place seems so isolated from our cozier version of reality. This isolation, motive, bad reputation, lack of life around, and the whole environment can break a disturbed person and push them off the edge of their sanity. Most people who attempt suicide in Aokigahara do it by hanging or overdose themselves with poison. The forest is patrolled by volunteers, not as an attempt to rescue people but to recover the corpse remains.
Inside Aokigahara, the “Sea of Trees”
Why is Aokigahara Forest so Famous?
It’s unclear why this forest began to be a commonplace to suicide. There are legends about a certain curse of the forest: inhabited by suffering souls of the past, this place would attract sensible, fragile, and weak people to end their pains.
During the 90s, crime novels were also written, increasing these legends. A famous one is “Kuroi Jukai”, written by Seicho Matsumoto in 1960, which ends with the dramatic suicide of two lovers right in the Aokigahara forest.
In 1933, Wataru Tsurumi explains the best ways to suicide, in its Kanzen Jisatsu Manuaru, the “Complete manual of suicide”. The aim was not encouraging people to commit suicide, of course, but to encourage them to live through pain, knowing that at the worst crucial moment one can escape pain by committing suicide. The author also describes the best places to give up to life, and Aokigahara forest is on the list. It seems that copies of this book are found among the belongings of the suicide victims.
Because of its infamous reputation, many tourists and filmmakers are attracted to this place. Filming in Aokigahara is prohibited by the government, but official films were produced. The most recent one, released in 2016, is “The Forest”. Of course, it’s a horror film, where a young woman goes into the Aokigahara Forest to find her sister.
Causes of Suicides: Is Mental Health a Social Problem in Japan?
Not limiting to Aokigahara, Japan is in fact one of the countries with the highest suicide rates. The annual number of suicides in Japan is more than 20,000, which is twice the number of deaths by traffic accidents. The causes are psychiatric disorders and the pain of sickness for most cases. This includes anxiety, a pessimistic view of life, the loss of an important part of the family, and economical issues.
Among the causes, there’s also overwork, which can cause heart attacks or strokes due to high stress and a starvation diet. This is called Karōjisatsu, 過労自殺, the “overwork suicide”, and it’s a very known issue in Japan. This is related to the pressure given by working places and working culture in Japan. Because of its high standards related to work, death by overwork is frequent in Japan, so that they coined a word for this type of death and suicide.
The Ancient Culture of Suicide in Japan
In ancient Japanese culture, the tradition of suicide goes a long way back. The annual successful suicide count is hundreds of people every year. In the feudal era, the ritual of suicide for samurai was an honor. It was called “Seppuku”, 切腹, or “Harakiri”, 腹切り, literally “cutting the stomach”. Even though the tradition is long gone, people still remember it. Moreover, in some countries, suicide is illegal or forbidden by religion, while Japan doesn’t have any forbidden stigma regarding it.
The Japanese government legislates many surveillance actions and provides suicide prevention hotline services to reduce this enormous suicide rate. According to the hotline service director, most people stated that their mental health problem is the main reason for attempting suicide.
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