People end their lives for different reasons but usually suicide is an escape. Escape from pain, humiliation, fear, shame, traumatic events. There are many things in life that might push a person to the edge. It is no surprise that in Japanese society, where exist so many social rules and complicated relationships, the suicide rate is relatively high. From a foreigner’s point of view, some of the issues that push Japanese men and woman into such a desperate move may look strange or even ridiculous. Unlike the U.S., in Japan the majority of people who commit suicide are of young to middle age, healthy and with better than average social status and income. Yet, many of them decide to die and come to the Aokigahara forest near Mount Fuji to take their lives.
18+ Warning content of this article may be disturbing for some readers,
discretion is advised!
It is hard to tell now when “the green sea” – another name Aokigahara is also known by, became a forest of suicides. It started in Edo period, when impoverished rural people would bring the elderly and disabled to the forest, leaving them to die in the green depths as the communities were unable to take the burden of providing for them. Since that time appeared the word “oyaste” in Japanese language which literally mean “get rid of parents.” And so did Kokeshi “erase a child” dolls which look as a cute souvenir until you learn the true meaning behind it. The Kokeshi dolls were made in the memory of children killed by parents who being unable to feed the whole family had to make harsh choices to abandon the weak and sick children. Just like the old men and women, the little children were often left to die in the forest. The Kokeshi dolls were expected to protect the rest of the family from misfortunes and the vengeance from the spirits of the dead children by keeping the child’s stylized replica in the family.
Many of the bodies found are so badly decomposed that identification becomes difficult.
In modern times, Aokigahara became popular as the perfect place for suicide after the worldwide bestselling book by Seicho Matsumoto “Dots and Lines” was published (in 2007 the novel was made into mini series) – the novel described the double suicide of two lovers in the Aokigahara forest with a lot of details and romantic flavors. It is unknown how many people have taken their lives there as no official statistic existed up to 1970, and the number of dead bodies had been growing in the forest over the years. Later, Japanese police started to perform annual sweeps clean-ups of the forest removing the remains. For some time, there were not many of them, no more than several dozen a year. But from early 90s’ this number started to rise. Partially it can be attributed to the popularity and influence of another book – a notorious “Suicide Manual” by Wataru Tsurumi in which Aokigahara is presented as a perfect place to end a life. In the first several months after release, more than 1.5 million copies were sold on the Japanese book market, and it didn’t come much as a surprise that the next annual police sweep of the forest discovered 57 bodies, along with wet and decomposed copies of the “Suicide Manual” lying around.
Due to the constant raise of the suicides in the forest, since 2003 official statics was classified in order to reduce the forest popularity in mass media and discurage futher suicides.
In spite of the historic notoriety of the seppuku or hara-kiri suicide by disembowelment, the modern Japanese men and women are not courageous enough to do it, rather hanging themselves, take an overdose of sleeping pills with alcohol, or suffocation with a plastic bag.
Some people prefer a passive suicide, just staying in the forest without food or shelter slowly weakening from exposure to the natural factors and malnutrition. For that reason alcohol or ropes are not sold in the stores around the forest. Volunteers patrol the forest from time to time trying to prevent suicides and calling the police to help those who still can be saved.
Aokigahara is located in Yamanashi-ken and it is the prefectural government’s responsibility to keep the forest clean, to implement suicide prevention measures and remove the dead bodies . These activities cost more than $50,000 every year. The police usually do not perform searches beyond the scheduled sweeps if someone is considered lost in Aokigahara with a probable suicide intent, as in Japanese society a decision to end one’s life is more a personal choice that has to be respected than a sin or disease that requires an immediate intervention.
As autopsies are rare in Japan, and bodes are usually found in a bad shape, decomposed and destroyed by animals and insects, many suicides in the Aokigahara forest might be actually murders disguised as a suicide. Some say that Aokigahara is a perfect place to get rid of a body. To mitigate such concerns, cameras and random police searches have been introduced along the main roads and walking paths throughout the forest. However, given that this is a huge area, these measures hardly achieve anything.
The forest also attracts looters searching for valuables and personal belongings of the dead. The number of looters from nearby towns, such as Shizuoka, greatly increased after it was reported that significant amounts of valuables in cash, credit cards and jewelry were found at the suicide scenes. Since it is difficult to tell looting from regular tourism and sightseeing, unless a looter is caught red handed, there is not much the police can do about it.
The indirect signs of things going on in the Aokigahara forest are quite chilling by itself.
Your life is a precious gift by your parents.
Please think about them, your family, your children!
You don’t have to suffer alone, please seek help!
Fujisan Yoshida Police Suicide prevention hotline.
The most depressing sight is not the forest itself, it is its parking. In Japan, people usually take a good care of their cars keeping them clean and well maintained. So, the abandoned, covered with dirt and leaves vehicles really stand out. Car utilization is quite expensive in Japan, and many of these vehicles are left abandoned for many years gradually growing into the ground. Personal cars, whose owners will never return, rental cars some people take to get to the Aokigahara forest to commit suicide. Car rental companies prefer not to retrieve these vehicles considering it a bad luck. Before 2008, the cars that were linked to suicides were frequently bought out in bulk and cheaply sold to Russian used cars companies in Vladivostok and Yuzno-Sahalinsk, but in recent years the Russian government instated steep customs duties making it impractical.
After entering the “green sea”is is very easy to get lost as there is no sence of direction. Due to the landscape, the cell phone coverage in Aokigahara is sketchy at best, but even with a good reception it is easy to get lost — both on Google and Apple maps the place looks like a huge green spot without much detail, and even with access to GPS it is not easy to navigate in the forest. Main walking and hiking roads inside the forest marked by the ropes and numerous signs warn the visitirs from leaving the trail.
Aokigahara ice caves.
Somebody have changed his mind?
Surprisingly enough, the flow of tourist and visitors to get chills from the forest dark atmospheres and reputation never stops, but, or course, Aokigahara has several cave structures and tourist hiking rotes to offer as well.
If you try to visit a forest without appropriate hiking attire, there is a good chance that you will be stopped by the volunteer patrol group trying to prevent suicides in the forest. Because many Japanese go there to die right at the end of their working day without even changing their suits. The work related issues along with heartbrokenness are the main reasons for a sudden suicide.
Not all local residents welcome the urge to die in the Aokigahara forest. Some places display placards attached to the trees signed by “Fuji area beauty preservation society” reading “Go f*cking die in Tokyo!” On one of them somebody left a comment, “Are you idiots?”
If you happen to visit the forest, don’t expect to find a greenery crypt filled with dead bodies and human bones. The remains are constantly removed by the authorities, but even if they had not, given the enormous acreage of area, it will be highly unlikely that you will actually stumble upon a suicide scene. Yet, you may find many other chilling discoveries. In spite of the regular cleaning efforts, there is a lot of garbage in the deeper parts of the forest — once expensive and neat things like perfume, cell phones, business cards, clothes — just a decomposing stuff mixed with the dead leafs. Sometimes, in the middle of the withered flowers you may find improvised memorials and plaques with very sad messages like “To my lovely daughter” or a desperate “There was nothing good it my life.”
I can’t live like that anymore!
Life is brutal and countless lives end under the green shades among the trees indifferent to the personal dramas and tragedies leaving those who lost their loved ones to sadness.
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