Deathly Destinations: Aokigahara, Japan
Welcome to the beautiful Aokigahara, Japan - located in the northwestern part of Mount Fuji, this forest lives on twelve square miles of hardened lava and has become a popular tourist location over the years. There are parts of the forest here that are incredibly dense with brush, and the porous hardened lava absorbs sound, which is the perfect recipe to help visitors feel a sense of solitude within the forest. But while the name Aokigahara may not ring a bell with many people, the forests' nickname may resonate with some of you; Aokigahara is otherwise known as Japan's Suicide Forest.
The forest itself is very dense and full, which can cause visitors to get lost quite easily if they stray from the official paths that have been established. As a result, hikers and guests of the forest will often use plastic tape to help mark their paths as they venture from the official paths and into the depths of the forest, in an attempt to help guide their way back. There are rumors that the deeper into Aokigahara you go, your compass will begin to malfunction and cause you to get lost - perhaps this is done at the wishes of the "yūrei," which are the ghosts of the dead that the forest is supposedly home to. However, those rumors have been tested by professionals who say that your compass will work perfectly fine if held at normal height, and that the compass should only malfunction if placed directly onto the lava below. But some will still argue the rumor is true...
Furthermore, there are myths that Aokigahara was used in the past as a place where ubasute was practiced. Ubasute is roughly translated to "abandoning the old woman" - it is a form of euthanasia used in only desperate times of famine where families would leave elderly relatives in a remote environment for them to die of starvation, dehydration, or exposure to the natural elements. This would lessen the numbers of mouths to feed in the family. People argue that this is just myth and never actually occurred in Aokigahara's dense brush, but it is worth mentioning just because it has become a part of the folklore of the region.
Like I mentioned before, Aokigahara has become known as the Suicide Forest. The forest has become a spot that so many people have chosen to end their lives at. So much so, that local officials have placed a sign that sits at the entrance to the forest that urges suicidal visitors to seek out help and not end their lives. In 2002, reports show that 78 human bodies were found in the forest - that number escalated to 105 the following year. And in 2010, local police reported that more than 200 people attempted suicide in the forest of Aokigahara, with 54 successfully ending their life. Reports also tell that as of 2011, the most common forms of suicide at Aokigahara were hanging and drug overdose. However, local officials have decided to stop publicly reporting the number of suicides that occur each year, in an attempt to disassociate Aokigahara from the topic of death. Since 1970, there have been annual body searches of the forest by police and volunteers to help find the bodies of the souls who just couldn't cope with life anymore. It is because of these unfortunate events that the forest has gained its notoriety as the Suicide Forest. For those of who who wish, there are plenty of pictures scattered throughout the internet of personal items and the bodies of those who gave their lives to the forest (but as per our personal rule of not showing heavily graphic content, we'd rather not publish the photos here).
It is at this point in this edition of Deathly Destinations that we would like to take a moment to pay tribute to the people who ended their lives, as well as those who attempted to end their lives, in the depths of Aokigahara. Suicide is a permanent solution to something that might only be temporary. Depression is severely overlooked in all aspects of life, and it's for these people that we can only hope that awareness continues to grow so fewer and fewer people seek out places like Aokigahara or even their own household to end their lives. To all of those who have chosen to end their lives in the woods of Aokigahara: you are in the thoughts and memories of your loved ones each and every day, and at least for right this very moment, in that of one of our own community here at Soulless.
If you, or anyone you may know, are considering suicide or any form of self harm, please know that there are plenty of people and resources available who are here to help you through whatever it is that is pushing you to this point. Before you do anything, please consider calling the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or by visiting their website and making use of their online chat. Believe it or not, suicide is not your only option - allow yourself the opportunity for someone to show you just that.