Second Ring of Hell: Japan’s Suicide Forest
When Japan is brought up, some of the things that come to mind are anime, ramen, or cherry blossom trees. The country is highly romanticized in the Western part of the globe, which isn’t bad. Like so many places in the world, Japan is full of history, wonderful folklore, and amazing sites. Just the same, though, Japan also has a dark side. Under Mount Fuji’s face is a forest where the sunlight never seems to reach, and volcanic eruptions have transformed the earth, making the ground rough and blanketed by thick tree roots and vines. To add to the spookiness of the area, very few wildlife calls the forest home. Many people visit this place every year, but few ever leave, and not for the reasons one may think. These people make the choice not to leave. Instead, they come to the forest with the intention of ending their lives. This forest is Aokigahara, also known as the Sea of Trees or, more infamously, the Suicide Forest.
As uncomfortable as it is, many places in the world are notorious for being where people choose to end their lives. Suicide is not a fun topic, but it’s a serious one that affects nearly everyone at one point or another. The Golden Gate Bridge in California, United States is the most popular location. The second is the Aokigahara forest in Japan. In recent years the number of bodies found in the forest has not been released to the public as a way to discourage the stigma surrounding the forest and bring about actual tourism.
There are a few key reasons the forest has a long history of death. One is the forest’s naturally eerie atmosphere. The canopy of the trees makes it difficult for sunlight to come through, and there is little to no wildlife in the forest. This makes the forest a perfect place as people are unlikely to be disturbed and very isolated. The forest has also always been thought to be haunted by ghosts and demons, some even saying that the souls of those wrecked by anger in their living lives are still inhabiting the land. Pop media has so taken advantage of the creepiness of the forest, one being the 2016 movie ‘The Forest’, a story about an American woman coming to Japan’s Suicide Forest to look for her twin sister. The 1960 novel Kuroi Jukai by Seicho Matsumoto ends with a pair of lovers choosing to die together in the Aokigahara forest.
Remorsefully another reason for the popularity of the forest as a final resting place is the distressing number of people who have died there through the years. Since so many souls possibly haunt the area, potential suicide visitors won’t be alone in death.
While Japan may not be a world leader in terms of suicide rates, it does has a high number of cases where people choose to end their lives for a country that is so highly developed. One reason for this is economics, as most suicides occur at the end of March, the end of Japan’s fiscal year. Another is the stigma surrounding seeking mental health in Japan. While there have been steps towards changing that over the years, the main idea culturally is to ignore the need to seek help or admit a problem. In addition, since Japan is not dominated by religion like the United States or England would be, suicide is not perceived as sinful. Japan actually has a history of its warriors committing acts of suicide in order to preserve honor. Samurais would perform acts of disembowelment known as Seppuku rather than fall into enemy hands. The special attack group of Kamikaze pilots implemented in WWll was seen as great soldiers willing to die for the cause.
Annual body searches are done yearly through the forest, and it’s not uncommon to come across personal belongings during this event. Shoes, clothes, and bags are common finds. Just as popular is the book The Complete Manual of Suicide, written by Wataru Tsurumi. The book calls Aokigahara the “perfect place to die.” Ominously several copies of the book have been found near bodies in the forest. A sad nature of these searches also lies in the fact that an untold number of people will probably never be found due to the copious amount of caves, roots, and wild animals that would take away or hide the bodies.
To combat the reputation of the forest, the local government has put up signs at the entrance to the forest, heeding potential suicide visitors to seek help, and has the number to a helpline listed. Trained volunteers also make rounds around the paths to talk to potential suicide visitors, increase police patrols, set up cameras around the perimeter of the grounds, and prevent pop media from mentioning the forest and its reputation.
It is possible to book tours of the forest as a way to make the land an actual tourist destination and not as a place for death. This may be near impossible with its given history; however, the nation is making strides towards its mindset of mental health. This will probably be the greatest tool for fighting the rumors of the Suicide Forest.