Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Japan's Suicide Forest

Aikigahara Forest at the base of Mt. Fuji in Japan is also known as the Demon Forest. It is supposedly the place where the most suicides occur in the country and it's second only to the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge as far as worldwide tallies are concerned. Approximately 100 people per year commit suicide here.

Signs such as this are posted throughout the forest. They translate to something like: "You don't have to do this. Please reconsider. Your life is precious." The Japanese government even assigns people to go out on suicide prevention patrols.

In a country riddled not only with suicide, but with superstition, many Japanese believe that the suicides have permeated the trees of the forest, resulting in paranormal activity. Urban legend states that directional compasses stop working when you enter this area.

There are many images available online, some showing people hanging from trees. It's obvious from the photos that these people had been there quite a while before their bodies were discovered. Other photos show the final campsites of people with the personal belongings they left behind -- some with skeletal remains still in the tent. Can you imagine being the forest worker who is assigned to this area? Yikes! These poor workers are responsible for removing the corpses and carrying them down to the local station where the victims' bodies are stored. Supposedly the workers even play a game of jan-ken-pon (Rock, Paper, Scissors) to see who has to sleep in the room with the remains. You see, it's considered bad luck for the body to be left alone. What?! Oh man, I'm glad I'm not one of those workers because I suck at Rock, Paper, Scissors.

Here's a quote from a local policeman, "I've seen plenty of bodies that have been badly decomposed or that have been picked at by wild animals... There's nothing beautiful about dying in there." Does that mean that some people choose this as a, somehow, romantic spot to end their lives? Yes. Some say that this "trend" of committing suicide here started after a book was published in 1960 called Kuroi Kaiju (Black Sea of Trees). The story ends when two lovers kill themselves in the forest. Leave it to the Japanese to romanticize suicide. Oh wait. The French did that, too.

There are also legends about ghosts (obake) inhabiting the forest due to people sacrificing their family members to the forest during periods of hardship. They would literally abandon their loved ones there (I'm going to guess they were in some way prevented from just up and leaving) and had them die a horrible death by starvation. Witnesses claim to see spirits floating from tree to tree. I remember being fascinated by an episode of Destination Truth (SyFy) where they caught a spirit (white mist) manifesting and then dissipating near a tree in Aokigahara. It was intriguing to see the footage because, to me, it appeared to be a cloudy figure standing up and then squatting back down, ultimately disappearing from sight.

I'm headed to Japan next month and will make the trek to Mt. Fuji. I'm not sure I'll have time to skulk around Aikogihara Forest, but if I do it will definitely be during daylight hours!

Counting down to Hallowe'en,

No comments:

Post a Comment