Aokigahara: the Most Famous Suicide Forest in Japan


Author: Mizuki Ichihira & Valeria

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The Most Famous Suicide Forest in Japan

Aokigahara (青木ヶ原) is a forest located in the foothills of Mt. Fuji in the Yamanashi Prefecture. Before obtaining the name “Suicide Forest,” this mysterious place was called Jukai, 樹海, meaning “the Sea of Trees.”  It’s the most well-known suicide destination in Japan and 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 why this place seems so isolated from our cozier 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 overdosing themselves with poison. The forest is patrolled by volunteers, not in 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 commonplace for 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 explained the best ways to suicide in its Kanzen Jisatsu Manuaru, the “Complete Manual of Suicide”. The aim was not to encourage 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 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. The government prohibits Filming in Aokigahara, 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 enters the Aokigahara Forest to find her sister. 

なぜこの森が自殺の場所として一般的になったのかは明確ではありません。この森には、かつての苦しんだ魂が宿り、この場所が苦悩に悩む感受性の高い人々を引き寄せるという伝説が存在します。1990年代には、犯罪小説が書かれ、これらの伝説が広まりました。有名な例としては、1960年に松本清張が著した「黒井樹海」があり、物語は青木ヶ原樹海で恋人同士が自殺するという劇的な結末を迎えます。1933年には鶴見亘が「完全自殺マニュアル」を執筆し、自殺の方法を詳しく説明しました。もちろん、この本は自殺を奨励するものではなく、苦痛を経験しながら生きることを促すものでしたが、最悪の瞬間において苦痛から逃れる手段として自殺が存在することを知らせることを目的としていました。著者はまた、人生を諦めるのに最適な場所を挙げており、青木ヶ原樹海もそのリストに含まれていました。この本が自殺者の遺品の中に見つかることもあるようです。悪名高い評判のため、多くの観光客や映画製作者がこの場所に惹かれています。政府は青木ヶ原での撮影を禁止していますが、公式の映画が制作されています。最新のものは2016年に公開された「The Forest」というホラー映画で、若い女性が妹を探すために青木ヶ原樹海に入るというストーリーです。

Causes of Suicides: Is Mental Health a Social Problem in Japan?

Not limited 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, twice the number of deaths by traffic accidents. The causes are psychiatric disorders and the pain of sickness in most cases. This includes anxiety, a pessimistic view of life, the loss of an essential part of the family, and economic 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 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 has no banned stigma.

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.


Japan’s Silent Crisis

The number of suicides in Japan in 2022 was 21,881, an increase of 297 from the previous year. The number of suicides per 100,000 population (suicide death rate) also increased by 0.8 to 17.5. In particular, the number of suicides among elementary, junior high, and senior high school students was 514, exceeding 500 for the first time since statistics began in 1980. This is thought to be partly due to an increase in troubled children due to insufficient communication with friends and teachers in the prolonged coronary disaster.

One may wonder why the number of suicides is so high in Japan, a country with beautiful nature and a convenient and safe environment. Some say it is due to low self-esteem. If so, it may have something to do with the national character, in which modesty and humility are virtues.

In Japan, where population decline is a social problem, suicide prevention is as important an issue as measures to combat the declining birth rate.





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