Japan’s Aokigahara Forest has long been a place of some infamy, both in paranormal circles and without.
Ever since the January release of The Forest, starring Natalie Dormer and Taylor Kinney, the spotlight has been placed on it yet again.
Colloquially, it’s known as “the Japanese Suicide Forest” or simply “the Suicide Forest.”
While officials are reluctant to give out numbers nowadays, the statistics they have released are sobering: over 200 attempts in 2010, 54 of them successful.
As a popular suicide destination, it’s second only to the Golden Gate Bridge.
Not all of these victims are discovered, leading to one of the forest’s more macabre lures – wander off the beaten path and it’s entirely plausible that you’ll run into one of the many who walked into the park and never walked out again.
And where so many traumatic deaths occur, the possibility of lingering spirits is inevitably raised as well.
It’s one of those rare locales that seems to smudge the line of skepticism: if ghosts are anywhere, Aokigahara seems the logical place for them.
Very seldom are these stories anything positive. The forest is supposedly a hot bed for yūrei, or angry spirits barred from the afterlife, and attempts to lure the unwary from the safety of the road.
The magnetic iron in the soil can throw off compasses and render cellphones useless, giving rise to the notion that demons lurk in the shadows.
Sure enough, this is the belief that The Forest falls firmly back on. The plot features an American woman who becomes lost in the forest, quickly becoming ensnared in a web of hallucinations, damned souls, and a few jump scares for good measure.
And while there’s no story quite like a good “haunted forest” story, such sensationalism does no favors to those whose paths have crossed through Aokigahara. Not the living and certainly not the dead.
The Suicide Beacon
Exactly how the park came to serve as such a beacon for those looking to end their lives isn’t entirely certain; culprits run the gamut from a 1960’s novel to the ancient practice of abandoning one’s parents.
It may simply be that Aokigahara is a beautiful, spiritual, isolated place.
When lava flowing from the mountain’s 864 AD eruption cooled and set, new plant life found root in the rich material, eventually giving way to the sea of hemlock fir, Japanese cypress, Mongolian oak, and maple trees found there today.
If nothing else, the sunlight filtering through the cool, heavy canopy of those trees makes for a picture that’s positively poetic.
It’s not difficult to see how those who’ve come to believe they have no other options might be drawn towards its deep, dark quiet.
Sometimes they leave notes, scraped into bark or left with their shoes. Sometimes they fasten them to the trees, such as the one that reads “I came here because nothing good ever happened in my life.”
Other times, their stories amount to what they’ve left behind: the empty bottles, the ropes hanging long enough to gather moss, their bones.
Things for rescue parties to stumble across and a certain, bloodthirsty mindset of tourist to hope they stumble across.
The grim truth of the matter is that modern day Japan has a significant suicide problem. Depression and heavy societal expectations contribute towards a suicide rate that’s the 17th highest in the world.
In an attempt to curb the rising death toll at Aokigahara, authorities pepper the forest with prominent signs pleading the potentially suicidal to reconsider…
“Your life is a precious gift from your parents,” reads one, taking pains to translate its message into English, French, and German. “Please think about your parents, siblings, and children. Talk about your troubles.”
No matter what Hollywood or the internet may try to claim, Aokigahara is not some place where angry spirits plot aggressively against the living.
It’s not a haunted house or an exotic, spooky locale where one goes to gasp at the wind. It’s not a “demon forest” where the mountain calls the living to die.
It’s a deeply tragic place indicative of a very tragic reality.
The forest – and by extension, any spirits that remain there – are deserving of nothing but the utmost respect.