Located at the base of Mt. Fuji, Aokigahara is perhaps the most infamous forest in all of Japan. Also known as the Sea of Trees, Suicide Forest, and Japan’s Demon Forest, Aokigahara has been home to over 500 confirmed suicides since the 1950s. Called “the perfect place to die,” Aokigahara is the world’s second most popular place for suicide (the Golden Gate Bridge being the first).
Legend says that this all started after Seicho Matsumoto published a novel by the name of Kuroi Kaiju (Black Sea of Trees) in 1960. The story ends with two lovers committing suicide in the forest, so many people believe that’s what started it all. However, the history of suicide in Aokigahara predates the novel, and the place has long been associated with death. Hundreds upon hundreds of Japanese people have hanged themselves from the trees of Aokigahara forest.
Wataru Tsurumui’s controversial 1993 bestseller, The Complete Suicide Manual, is a book that describes various modes of suicide and even recommends Aokigahara as the perfect place to die. Apparently this book is also a common find in the forest, usually not too far away from a suicide victim and their belongings. Undoubtedly, the most common method of suicide in the forest is hanging.
Japan’s suicide rate is already bad enough as it is, and having this forest and suicide manual on top of it all is pretty terrible. It’s really sad. Despite many efforts to prevent suicide and provide help to those considering it, Japan’s suicide rate continues to rise.
Legend has it that in ancient times families would abandon people in the forest during periods of famine when there was not enough food to go around. By sacrificing family members to the forest, there would be less mouths to feed and therefore enough food for the rest of the family. Those abandoned in the forest would die long, horrible, drawn out deaths due to starvation. Because of that, Aokigahara is also said to be haunted by the souls of these abandoned people.
The vast forest covers a 3,500 hectare wide area and the tree coverage in Aokigahara is so thick that even at high noon it’s entirely possible to find places shrouded in complete darkness. It’s also mostly devoid of animals and is eerily quiet. Hearing a bird chirping in the forest is incredibly rare. The area is rocky, cold, and littered with over 200 caves for you to accidentally fall into.
The discomforting forest is known for the thickness of its trees, its twisting network of woody vines, and the dangerous unevenness of the forest floor. All of this together gives the place a very unwelcoming feeling.
By the 1970s the suicides had become so infamous that the Japanese government started to do annual sweeps of the forest to search for and clear out the bodies. In 2002, 78 bodies were found within the forest, exceeding the previous record of 74 in 1998. By 2003, the rate had climbed to 100.
In recent years, the local government has stopped publicizing the numbers in an attempt to downplay Aokigahara’s association with suicide. In 2004, 108 people killed themselves in the forest and in 2010, 247 people attempted suicide, 54 of whom succeeded. But that’s just the number they found and reported. Who knows how many more there are that just go undiscovered?