An unsettling visit to Aokigahara, Japan's 'Suicide Forest'
Aokigahara forest, also well known as the “Suicide Forest,” is located at the northwest base of Mount Fuji. Reports say that it is among the most popular suicide spots in the world. The Japan Times says that in 2010 alone, more than 200 people attempted to commit suicide in the forest, with 54 succeeding.
The forest, also called the Sea of Trees, boasts a spectacular view from afar. But once you enter, everything changes.
Though it is already rich with history, this place has made its way further to Japanese popular culture, with its appearance in two novels possibly pushing it into the limelight for those considering suicide.
In 1961, Seicho Matsumoto published a novel titled Tower of Waves, where a young couple decided to end their lives in Aokigahara forest. And in 1993, Wataru Tsurumi published his book The Complete Manual Of Suicide, calling it “the perfect place to die.”
Long before these books were published, legend says that Aokigahara is a place where some carried their elders to let them pass away during times of hardships brought about by extreme poverty, in a practice known as “ubasute.”
It's said that forest employees or volunteers do at times encounter corpses or abandoned personal belongings, or people who are contemplating taking their lives spending time in the forest. There are organized sweeps to look for and clear bodies in the area.
Tokyo to Aokigahara
Going to Aokigahara from Tokyo is relatively easy, but in other ways, it is still a challenge.
You can take a direct bus from Shinjuku to Kawaguchiko station. Then from Kawaguchiko, you can take the Saiko line bus straight to the Ice Cave beside Aokigahara forest. You can ask the information desk at the station for the bus schedule so you can plan your stay accordingly.
When I asked the lady at the station about the bus going to the Ice Cave, she immediately asked, with a worried expression, if I was alone, and asked which country I was from.
I told her I was with a friend, and we were from the Philippines. I intentionally acted happy and excited when I answered her question. I heard stories that if you tell them that you are going to the forest, they will discourage you and tell you that there are many bad spirits in the forest to prevent you from going.
There are even stories that bus drivers do not stop at the bus station near the forest if they feel that you are depressed and most likely to take your life.
Exploring the forest
Upon entering the forest, I immediately felt uneasy seeing the tall closely packed trees that almost blocked out the sunlight and sound. The forest was eerie, dark, and quiet; it was as if an invisible door were blocking you from the person you are talking to.
I was walking fast because we only had an hour before dark. Also, whenever I stopped to rest and appreciate the beauty of the forest, I got restless because of its deafening silence. I walked tirelessly so I could hear the stomping of my shoes and that somehow calmed me down. Signs with suicide hotline numbers were posted all over the forest trail.
In the middle of the trail is an area that is forbidden, where a sign that says “No Entry” could be seen. I immediately entered the forbidden track route. My friend was reluctant to enter at first, but he decided to go and for only a few meters.
He stood where he could see the “No Entry” sign so we would not get lost. I told him I would explore the forbidden track and asked him to keep talking to me so I wouldn’t get lost.
I could not see my friend as gnarly trees were already blocking my sight of him. I walked for about 5 minutes and I could barely hear his voice. At this point, everything looked the same. It was easy to get lost in that part of the forest. Thoughts of leaving my jacket and other things on the floor to serve as markers were already running through my head.
After a few minutes of walking, I heard a bird and I got startled for a bit, but I still wanted to explore the depths of the forest. It felt like something was pulling me; I just kept walking deeper into the forest.
I noticed on my far right from where I was standing that there were plastic tapes wrapped around the trees. Suddenly, I heard another sound, a creepy one that I could not figure out.
For some reason, I remembered a blog I read online that says, the forest will try to lure you in and make you want to get further until you get lost in it. It gave me the chills, and that was the time I decided to return to the main track.
While we were walking back to the base of the forest, I saw a lady, a foreigner. She was standing still, holding her hair as if she were brushing it with her hand.
I got scared and it got me jumpy for a little bit. She immediately saw me, and she smiled then walked away in the other direction. I smiled back and gave her a nod before I walked forward. I thought it was strange for her to do that in the forest.
I kept glancing back while walking, just to check if she would be back. I got paranoid that something else would happen, just like in the scary movies. At that point, there were so many other daunting things that entered my mind. Thankfully, none of those happened and we got out of the forest safely.
Back to Tokyo
As we took our ride back to Shinjuku, and as our adrenaline brought about by fear slowed down, a tremendous heaviness of heart started to set in.
We were looking at the photos we took and talked about possible reasons people decided to end their lives there. We thought of the girl we saw in the forest and hoped that she was just fixing herself at that time. But if she wasn’t, then I hoped that somehow the smile I gave her would somehow translate into a beam of light or hope, that she could also communicate with anyone. Even to a stranger passing by in the gloomy forest.
While writing this, a thought crossed my mind to check if we have a support group or suicide hotline here in the Philippines. I called 3 different numbers that I found on the Internet. The first one returned with an out of service message. The second one kept ringing, but no one answered.
I wonder what happened to those who were in need of their services. How many could’ve been saved if the numbers were working and someone answered the call? I tried searching again for another suicide prevention hotline, and after two rings a lady answered.
I immediately told her that I was just curious to know whether the number posted on the Internet is working and available 24/7, which she confirmed.
For people who are experiencing serious life issues and need someone to talk to, you can call: 896-7603 (Crisis Line Philippines).
Also, the Natasha Goulbourn Foundation has a depression and suicide prevention hotline to help those secretly suffering from depression. The numbers to call are 804-4673 and 0917-558-4673. Globe and TM subscribers may call the toll-free number 2919. More information is available on its website. It’s also on Twitter @NGFoundationPH and Facebook. – Rappler.com
Bla is a travel addict. He is a certified public accountant by profession, and works as an SAP consultant. He is an adventure backpack traveler, and plans most of his trips on a shoestring budget. He is currently on a journey to explore places that your parents warned you to stay away from, one vacation leave at a time. Visit his blog over here or follow him on Facebook.