The Aokigahara area in Japan is an especially beautiful location. The thriving forest is also known as the Sea Of Trees thanks to the lush greenery.
Situated at the base of Mount Fuji, the forest sits on twelve square miles of hardened lava from the mountain’s last eruption in the year 864.
However, unfortunately, the forest has acquired a much darker reputation. The site has become internationally known for being one of the world’s most prominent suicide hotspots.
Aokigahara: the suicide forest
It is quite difficult to say where Aokigahara acquired its reputation as a ‘suicide forest’. Some of the forests’ trails have signs asking suicidal visitors to seek help and reconsider their decision.
Folklore says that the forest is haunted by Yūrei. These are said to be the ghosts of those who died in a quick, or violent manner and were unable to pass into the afterlife because the proper rites were not performed. Aokigahara is also allegedly a place where ubasute (the act of abandoning an elderly or infirm family member to their deaths) took place, however there are few sources to corroborate that this practice ever actually took place.
The novel Nami no Tō (Tower of Waves) by Seichō Matsumoto also helped cement Aokigahara’s reputation. In the novel, the protagonist treks through the forest in order to commit suicide. However, the forest’s reputation was known in Japan since long before that publication.
Aokigahara’s ‘Suicide Forest’ reputation was brought to the west with films such as The Forest, 47 Ronin, and The Sea Of Trees. In addition, stories such as that of Logan Paul, a YouTuber who uploaded a controversial video of himself travelling into the forest and finding a suicide victim’s body, have helped build the forest’s infamy.
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Why is this spot so prevalent for suicides?
Given that Aokigahara has this reputation, it’s difficult to tell how much of it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Have those considering suicide started flocking there due to the forest’s reputation? Or would they have gone their anyway? The answer is probably a mix of both, to some degree.
However, there are a few natural elements which make the location feel oddly spooky.
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For a start, the volcanic rock which the forest grows out of is naturally porous. This means it absorbs sound, making the forest oddly quiet and serene.
Also contributing to the silence is the fact that parts of the forest are very dense. This also means that, without a local guide, it can be very easy to lose one’s way while hiking through the forest. Signs warn visitors to stick to the paths at all times.
In addition, volcanic rock is often naturally magnetic. This means that a compass placed on a rock can become ‘confused’.
Aokigahara: an area of natural beauty
Of course, while Aokigahara might be most famous as ‘the suicide forest’, it is much more than that. In fact, since 2011 local officials have refused to publicize the number of suicide victims found within the forest, hoping to build the forest’s reputation as an area of natural beauty, and lessen its dark reputation.
Aokigahara is home to many lava caves including two particularly famous ones. Narusawa lce Cave and Fugaku Wind Cave are popular tourist spots. The former is frozen all year round while the latter is famous as a spot for storing silkworm eggs and seeds.
On clear days, Aokigahara also has brilliant views of Mt. Fuji.
In addition, that same serene quiet that makes the location feel oddly spooky is something of a draw, especially for tourists visiting from the bustling Tokyo.
The forest is also home to plenty of wildlife. Asian black bear, small Japanese mole, Japanese mink, and Japanese grosbeak are all known to be living in the forest.
Can you visit Aokigahara?
As might be obvious from this article, Aokigahara is a popular tourist destination. A two hour drive from Tokyo there are numerous tours and trips which take tourists from Japan’s capital out to the forest. Tourists can take a tour alone, or travel with a local guide to visit the forest and its numerous caves.
Tours can be found quite easily with a quick Google search. The average cost when we looked was about $163 including transport to and from Tokyo itself.
However, for guests hoping to travel to the forest for ghost tours or a guide to the forest’s dark history; don’t hold your breath. As part of the local push to lessen the area’s negative reputation, there’s a concerted effort to avoid focus tours on Aokigahara’s natural beauty, rather than it’s dark past. Guests will have to content themselves with learning about those elements of the forest from films, books, and blogs, and enjoy the tours for what they are.
Tours generally tend to take about 11 to 12 hours, and there are spots where visitors can purchase refreshments and souvenirs.