AOKIGAHARA: THE SUICIDE FOREST OF JAPAN:
Japan, a country known for its ancient heritage, vibrant culture, and fast paced lifestyle, is also a home to a dense, verdurous forest, associated with a gruesome reality of ‘a place where people come to die’, giving it the popular name ‘Suicide forest‘. Many tourists enter this forest to experience solitude and dwell into its chasm of eeriness. And some people enter the forest with an intention of never coming out.
This grim forest, known as Aokigahara, comprises of 13.5 miles of land and is situated at the foot of Mount Fuji. It is known to be so dense that some locals prefer to call it “Jukai” or “sea of trees”. Some estimates claim that around 100 people die here every year. This morbid reality of the forest has made it notoriously popular on the internet for all the wrong reasons!
Owing to the murky nature of the forest, it is very easy to trail off to a different path and get lost in the sea of trees. Travelers are seen using brightly colored plastic tape that they loop around trees to find their way back. GPS systems and cell phones cease to work here due to a high level of iron in the soil. Consequently, travelers are expected to abstain from entering restricted areas, as seeking help in case of emergency may be harder than they think!
Entering a restricted area may lead you to witness some ghastly sights. Many tourists have reported seeing skeletons, decomposing dead bodies, damaged tents, suicide notes, and personal valuables abandoned on the ground. At the entrance of the forest, abandoned cars and piles of shoes are commonly seen waiting for their owners to return from the forest of doom.
JAPAN AND ITS LONG TRADITION OF SUICIDES:
The tendency to romanticize self-inflicted death in Japan is due to an ancient ritual called ‘Seppuku’, where the Samurais killed themselves as an act of honor. Vestiges of Seppuku culture can still be found in people’s mind while addressing suicides in Japan.
The Japanese book ‘Kuiro Jukaii’ and the novel ‘The Complete Guide To Suicide’ have described Aokigahara as the ‘perfect’ place for committing suicide. These books are quite often found along with dead bodies.
Aokigahara is constantly under surveillance and is patrolled by officers appointed by the Japanese authorities to help suspected victims and prevent suicides. At various junctures in the forest, sign boards with messages to remind victims of their family along with the Japanese suicide helpline number are posted as a preventive measure.
“Your life is a precious gift from your parents. Please think about your parents, siblings, and children. Don’t keep it to yourself. Talk about your troubles.”
This harrowing picture of Aokigahara can only change when the problem of mental health and suicides is addressed and acknowledged by the society. The stigma related to depression and other suicide-inducing health issues needs to be broken. People need to be made aware of the fatal outcome of these mental health issues- not just in Japan, but globally.