Aokigahara Forest

Aokigahara is a woodland at the base of Mount Fuji in Japan that makes The Blair Witch Project forest look like Winnie the Pooh's Hundred Acre Wood.



It probably has something to do with all the dead bodies scattered around.
What Niagara Falls is to weddings, Aokigahara is to suicide. How many suicides does it takes for a place to get that reputation? A dozen? Fifty?

Called "the perfect place to die," the Aokigahara forest has the unfortunate distinction as the world's second most popular place to take one's life. (The first is the Golden Gate Bridge.) Since the 1950s, Japanese businessmen have wandered in, and at least 500 of them haven't wandered out, at an increasing rate of between 10 and 30 suicides per year. Recently these numbers have increased even more, with a record 78 bodies in 2002.

The trend has supposedly started after Seicho Matsumoto published his novel Kuroi Kaiju (Black Sea of Trees) where two of his characters commit suicide there. More recently, a book titled Kanzen Jisatsu Wataru Tsurumi Manyuaru (The Complete Manual of Suicide, 1993), which has sold 1.3 million copies in that country, was recommended as the perfect place to kill themselves. In 2004, the director made the film Tomoyuki Takimoto Ki no Umi, which told the story of four people who decided to commit suicide in this forest. After that-always eager to prove they are bizarrely susceptible to suggestion-hundreds of Japanese people have hanged themselves among the countless trees of the Aokigahara forest, which is reportedly so thick that even in high noon it's not hard to find places completely surrounded by darkness.


In 1971, the Japanese government began to organize search parties to find the remains of the dead. Annually, a team of firefighters and police officers exceeding 300 personnel enter Aokigahara to remove the corpses that have been found throughout the year for visitors and rangers. A police van rounds the forest patrol daily in search of possible suicide.


Besides bodies and homemade nooses, the area is littered with signs displaying such uplifting messages like "Life is a precious thing! Please reconsider!" or "Think of your family!"


In the 70s, the problem got national attention and the Japanese government began doing annual sweeps of the forest in search of bodies. In 2002, they found 78. But who knows how many they missed? In all likelihood there probably is a hanged person somewhere in Aokigahara on any given day. By the way, if an entire dark forest full of hanged corpses wasn't bad enough, a few years ago some people noticed that a lot of the dead in Aokigahara probably had cash or jewelry on them. Thus began the proud Japanese tradition of Aokigahara Scavenging where people are running around the Death Forest, looking for dead guys to loot.





The first mile is very polluted by humans, because the number of suicides that take place in the forest. But beyond the first kilometer of the forest, everything is in almost original condition, without obvious signs of human contact. It is said that almost no sound but the wind playing through the leaves.


















Japanese spiritualists believe that the suicides committed in the forest have permeated Aokigahara's trees, generating paranormal activity and preventing many who enter from escaping the forest's depths. Complicating matters further is the common experience of compasses being rendered useless by the rich deposits of magnetic iron in the area's volcanic soil.

Locals say they can easily spot the three types of visitors to the forest: trekkers interested in scenic vistas of Mount Fuji, the curious hoping for a glimpse of the macabre, and those souls who don’t plan on returning.

What those hoping to take their lives may not consider is the impact the suicides have on the locals and forest workers. In the words of one local man, "It bugs the hell out of me that the area's famous for being a suicide spot." And a local police officer said, "I've seen plenty of bodies that have been really badly decomposed, or been picked at by wild animals... There's nothing beautiful about dying in there."

The forest workers have it even worse then the police. The workers must carry the bodies down from the forest to the local station, where the bodies are put in a special room used specifically to house suicide corpses. The forest workers then play jan-ken-pon - which English-speakers call rock, paper, scissors - to see who has to sleep in the room with the corpse.

It is believed to be very bad luck if the corpse is left alone, for the "yurei" (ghost) of the suicide will scream through the night, and the body will move itself on its own.