At the base of Japan’s iconic Mt. Fuji, lies a destination for broken souls known as Aokigahara, often referred to as the “Sea of Trees” and also known as the “Suicide Forest.”
Aokigahara Forest is located at the northwest base of Mt. Fuji. The forest is approximately 35 square km (14 square miles). From a distance the forest seems like a calm, untouched wilderness area, however, behind its beauty lies a dark history that is no secret to all.
Aokigahara is said to be the most popular place to go to commit suicide in Japan and the second in the world after The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. 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 2004, 108 people killed themselves in the forest and in 2010, 247 people attempted suicide, 54 of whom succeeded. But these are just records of the bodies that are found by monthly patrols and annual “body hunts”. Local officials and residents believe that number could be significantly higher.
“There are people who come here to end their lives in Aokigahara Jukai but, uncertain as to where exactly the forest is, kill themselves in neighboring woodland,” said Masamichi Watanabe, chief of the Fujigoko Fire
In recent years, the local government has stopped publicizing the numbers in an attempt to restrain Aokigahara’s association with suicide.
Legend says that during periods of famine, families would abandon their family member in the forest so that there will be less mouth to feed. Those abandoned in the forest would die due to starvation. Because of that, locals believe that Aokigahara haunted by the souls of these abandoned people.
In another version of the story, Legend says that it all started after Seicho Matsumoto published the novel, Kuroi Kaiju (Black Sea of Trees) in 1960 – the story ends with two lovers committing suicide in the forests. However, according to the history of Aokigahara, many Japanese people have hanged themselves from the trees of the forest even before the novel was published.
Another book that is linked to the suicide fads was Wataru Tsurumui’s controversial 1993 bestseller, The Complete Suicide Manual. The book details various modes of suicide and 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.