Published on Monday, 22 April 2013 00:00
Next stop, Suicide Land! Kind of like Disneyland except just replace the whimsical decorations with hangman nooses and the jovial costumed mascots with decomposing corpses.
Aokigahara, also known as Sea of Trees is a dense, sprawling 35-square-kilometre forest that lies at the northwest base of Mount Fuji in Japan. The forest encompasses numerous rocky, icy caverns, several which are popular tourist attractions. Due to the density of the trees, wind is prevented from entering the forest, there is an absence of wildlife, and some areas in the forest is completely shrouded in darkness despite it being high noon.
The forest is notorious for being eerily quiet and extremely appealing to the depressed, dramatic and suicidal visitors.
Aokigahara has the unfortunate distinction as the world’s second most popular place for suicides (the first being San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge). For the forest to get that reputation of being the perfect place to die, over 500 people have taken their lives since the 1950s.
Japanese spiritualists believe that the souls of suicide victims have permeated Aokigahara's trees, generating paranormal activity and preventing many who enter from escaping the forest's depths. Escaping from the forest is further complicated by the scientifically proven theory of compasses being rendered useless by the rich deposits of magnetic iron in the area's volcanic soil.
The trend supposedly started after a Japanese author, Seicho Matsumoto, published his novel ‘Kuroi Kaiju’ (Black Sea of Trees) where two of his characters committed suicide in that particular forest. Since then, the always-eager-to-leap-onto-the-bizarre-trend-bandwagon Japanese people have taken to hanging themselves among the countless trees.
Besides rotting bodies, hangman nooses, and bones, the forest is also filled with signs urging people to drop the idea of suicide like, ‘Life is a precious thing! Please reconsider!’ or ‘Think of your family!’
Even though the authorities have their hearts in the right place, the signs probably did more harm than good and reinforced people’s suicidal thoughts on how terribly despondent their lives are.
The ongoing forest-suicide trend received national attention in the 70s. The Japanese government started employing annual sweeps of the forest in search for bodies, dispatching a small army of police officers, volunteers, and attendant journalists.
The suicide rate has been climbing with each subsequent year. In 2002, 78 bodies were found in the forest, exceeding the previous record of 74 in 1998. In 2003, the rate climbed to 100. In 2004, 108 people killed themselves in the forest. In 2010, 247 people attempted suicides, 54 of whom succeeded in killing themselves.
In case an entire forest packed with corpses and possibly ghosts (if you believe in the supernatural) isn’t bad enough, recently some people realized that many of the suicide victims brought cash and jewelry along with them. Thus began the unofficial Aokigahara Scavenger Hunt where people in search for treasure, go hunting in the forest of death looking for maggoty bodies to loot.
Here’s a tip to any one of you interested in participating in the all-year round Aokigahara Scavenger Hunt; follow the sweet smell of death, it will lead you to a potential loot-able dead guy.