Called “the perfect place to die,” the Aokigahara forest has the unfortunate distinction as 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 a rate of roughly 30 suicides per year. Recently these numbers have increased, with a record 78 bodies 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 left signs reading “Your life is a precious gift from your parents,” and “Please consult the police before you decide to die!” mounted on trees throughout.
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 returning.
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 then 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 – which English-speakers call rock, paper, scissors – to see who has to sleep in the room with the corpse.
It is believed to be very bad luck if the corpse is left alone, for the “yurei” (ghost) of the suicide will scream through the night, and the body will move itself on its own.