The Suicide Forest in Japan: Aokigahara
If there is a place where many people choose to kill themselves at, there must be something about it. Either the place itself is overwhelmingly gloomy, or there is a depressing background story behind it. Aokigahara, also known as Jukai (sea of trees), qualified for both.
As a forest resting in the shade of Mount. Fuji, Jukai was nurtured by the thick layer of lava. It was formed over 1000 years ago, together with the caves which were also created by the Zyougann Eruption of Fuji. Nowadays, the caves have been developed into tourist attraction, while the forest made itself known as one of the best place to commit suicide. Two books contributed to Jukai’s fame; “The Complete Manual of Suicide” and “Nami no To”.
The first one objectively introduced differently ways of ending one’s life. Of course, dying in Jukai is highly regarded by both the author as well as the readers. The second book is a novel; a sad love story between a married woman and a much younger prosecutor. Their story, non the less, ended in Jukai peacefully. This novel, with its great literature value and the enchanting atmosphere it sheds upon unattainable love, aroused many compassions. As a result, many bodies were found together with either of the books inside the forest.
Luckily, none of these two books were in our rucksacks when heading towards this mystical land. It was the hottest time of the day when we arrive at the destined parking lot. Failed to see any cars abandoned by suicidal people, we only spotted a small truck full of tools and ladders, together with a police car. Imagine they can go in and remove bodied anytime.
Not wanting to get lost too quickly, we got in from the main entrance. The not so many tourists soon all vanished behind the gate leading to the caves, left us to absolute peace. There is no one on the path, not a sound from bugs either. Only uncomfortable heat rising up from the ground, as if the lava is still running underneath.
This is Jukai, not any other forest. The density of trees has properly blocked sunlight and wind, thus scared away most animals, but not us. We proceeded on the main path, and soon reached our entrance with the welcoming “Do Not Enter” sign on it. It also has a separate sign saying “CCTV in operation”(Judging from the fact that there is no street lamps, in fact nothing at all besides trees, we can assume that Japanese are using lava to generate electricity already).
Within 10 metres into the forbidden area, we saw some guards with a huge dog patrolling not far away. They saw us, but obviously were more interested in people who are moving anymore, we were left along. Treading into the sea of trees, we soon found plastic tapes on the tree. Two of them together, carefully marking their way to hell.
We followed. At first it was some easy walk, nothing surprising, the eerie silence companied us, the heat kept coming off the ground. Until we reached one point, where all of a sudden, tapes and strings of all colors appeared and spread into many different directions.
We parted to follow two different traces, and this is when the walk started to get more complicated. The ground is no longer soil, but a net, made up by the overlapping roots of trees, rocks, and fallen leaves. With a small feet you can easily step into holes that is heavily covered by leaves, knocked by rocks beside it then get stuck. However, the strings went steadily on, never less, only more. Clearly those who are ready to give up their lives complain less than I do.
As we go in even deeper, the strings became less tidy. It feels like they have run out of patience, so instead of wrapping on each tree, many were just scattered on the ground. There were times when the strings disappear completely, then reappear some distance away; there were trees that were wrapped around many times, then a lot extra tapes left beside. Were they scared or were they hesitating? One cannot help but going through all the emotions with them.
The traces are harder to follow now. The two tapes we found at the beginning, ended abruptly somewhere; others ones all went into completely different direction. The further you go, the less traces you have; normally you ended up with only one tape visible. And the longer you follow that one, the less clear its route is. After a while of meaningless walk and not so many discoveries, we decided to head back.
With a partner who grew up in a forest, there are no worries about getting lost. Even for Jukai, where all directions look the same and the magnetic lava underneath confuses your compass. But just when I was about to feel light hearted about not bumping into any body, we saw something.
It was some rope on the tree, together with a tie, formed a perfect loop. Couple metres away, on another tree, the same type of rope. But this time , a lady’s belt was used. By the look of the string and cloth, it is quite possible that they did it at the same time. If so, why kept a distance? Do they belong to the couple whose traces we followed from the beginning? Were they lovers? What was their story? Unfortunately, there were nothing left for us to find out.
On the way back along the same tapes, I was thinking about a documentary I saw before about Jukai. It said that people who leave marks along the way, are those who are still hesitating, they could go back if they are to give up. I wonder whether any of them did come back, so that they could know how relieved one would have felt.
It is when you come out of the entrance to get a can of coke from the vending machine, and to hear something once again besides your own footsteps: the coins clattering, the can dropping, people chatting, engine starting.