Called "the perfect place to die," the Aokigahara forest in Japan has the unfortunate distinction of 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 per year. Recently these numbers have increased even more, with a record 78 suicides in 2002.
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.
Due to the vastness of the forest, desperate visitors are unlikely to encounter anyone once inside the so-called "Sea of Trees," so the police have mounted signs reading "Your life is a precious gift from your parents," and "Please consult the police before you decide to die!" on trees throughout.
This does not deter determined people from committing suicide in this dense forest. Annually about 70 corpses are found by volunteers who clean the woods, but many are forever lost in the very thick woods. Japanese authorities discontinued publishing exact suicide numbers in order to avoid making the place even more popular.
Contemporary news outlets noted the recent spike in suicides in the forest, blamed more on Japan’s economic downturn than on the romantic ending of Seicho Matsumoto’s novel Kuroi Jukai, which revitalized the so-called suicide forest’s popularity among those determined to take their final walk. (The novel culminates in Aokigahara as the characters are driven to joint-suicide.)
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 leaving.
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 than 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—rock, paper, scissors—to see who has to sleep in the room with the corpse. It is believed that if the corpse is left alone, it is very bad luck for the yurei (ghost) of the suicide victims. Their spirits are said to scream through the night, and that their bodies will move on their own.
Know Before You Go
Located approximately two hours' driving time west-southwest from Tokyo.