At the northwest base of infamous Mount Fuji in Japan lies Aokigahara, a 14 square mile forest of immense natural beauty. It’s also the most common location for suicides in Japan, which as a nation has the third highest suicide rate in the world.
To many, suicide is completely unthinkable, yet according to the World Health Organization, over 800,000 people end their own lives in this way per year. The severity of this global issue is most present in 15-29 year olds, as a 2012 study revealed it to be the second leading cause of death in that age group.
Aokigahara, also known as the Suicide Forest or Sea of Trees, has been the final destination for what is believed to be over a hundred individuals annually, despite efforts by both the Japanese government and volunteers to end this grisly tradition.
Many attribute the forest’s popularity as a suicide spot to the tragic novel Kuroi Jukai, written by Seichō Matsumoto in the 1960s. Within the popular novel, a heartbroken lover retreats to Aokigahara to end their life, possibly beginning the forest’s ascent into one of the most commonly used suicide locations in all of the world.
Hoping to put an end to or at least drastically decrease the incidence of suicide in this forest, the Japanese government has instituted a number of features, including increased patrols, security cameras at each entrance, and uplifting/thought provoking signs throughout the forest.
Volunteer-led searches are also said to be held annually with the intention of hopefully saving lives, but at the very least recovering and providing a proper burial for discovered bodies.
Bone Chilling Oddities About Aokigahara
- According to folklore the forest is haunted with angry souls (called yūrei) that are created when a person dies with a feeling of anger or disdain. These souls are believed to play a role in persuading visitors off the path.
- Despite the annual sweeps many bodies are still left unfound due to the forest’s natural density.
- Death by hanging is said to be the most popular form of suicide committed, followed by poisoning.
A Density Unlike Any Other
Aside from its eerie reputation, what truly sets Aokigahara apart from other forests is its natural density, a feature that undoubtedly attributes to its use in this way. Not only could individuals easily carry out their suicidal act without notice, but many could also very easily get lost amidst the literal sea of trees that the landmark offers —potentially trapping and ending the lives of even those no longer or never intending to kill themselves.
Even calls for help are believed to be often lost within the density of the forest, and many use ribbon to mark their tracks if they intend to stray off the established path.
In recent years, local officials have stopped publicizing Aokigahara’s death toll in hopes of downplaying its association with suicide as a whole.
The Sea Of Trees
Directed by Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting, Milk), the film stars Matthew McConaughey, Naomi Watts, and Ken Watanabe. Set in the forest, the film follows the story of a suicidal American who befriends a Japanese man who inspires him to not take his own life. The challenge arises when neither of them is able to find their way out of the forest whose density and mystery has consumed countless individuals before them.
The film does a wonderful job of marrying the history of this infamous natural site to deeper philosophical issues. Whether or not you are currently bogged down in the challenges of life, the film offers many valuable reminders of just how precious life is and how grateful we can all choose to continually be.
Here is the official trailer for the film:
Initial screenings are already booked for Friday, August 26th in both New York at Village East and in Los Angeles at Sundance Sunset. More worldwide screenings are set to be released on September 2nd.
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