The mysteries of Aokigahara



by LORENZO CIOTTI

The mysteries of Aokigahara

Aokigahara is located at the northwestern base of Fuji in Japan. Composed largely of lava rocks, ice caves, dense trees and shrubs, it is sadly known in Japan and around the world for being the scene of numerous suicides, 54 committed in 2010 alone, despite the presence of many signs, in Japanese and English, inviting people to reconsider their intentions.

Statistics vary from year to year, but it is documented that, since 1950, about 30 suicides have occurred annually. In 2002, 78 bodies were found in the forest, surpassing the record of 74 in 1998. In 2003 the number rose to 105 and since then the local government has stopped disclosing the statistics in an attempt not to damage Aokigahara's image by associating it to suicide.

In 2004, 108 people were killed in the forest; in 2010 247 people attempted suicide, of which 54 committed the act. Statistics indicate the peak of suicides in March, the end of the fiscal year in Japan, tracing most of the extreme actions to economic reasons.

Since 2011, the most used means to take one's life are hanging and drug overdose. The high rate of suicides has led officials to place signs in Japanese and English in the forest inviting those who have gone there to commit suicide to seek help from specialists.

Since 1970 a special patrol has been set up, made up of police officers, volunteers and journalists, assigned to search and remove the bodies. The place owes its popularity to the 1960 novel Nami no tō by Seichō Matsumoto which tells the story of two lovers who both end up committing suicides in the forest.

However, the suicides seem to have begun even before the publication of the novel, with the name of Aokigahara associated with suicides as early as the nineteenth century, when the ubasutes went to die in the forest, transforming into yūrei which is still said to infest the area.

In 2017 Aokigahara received public attention following the upload of a video, later removed, by the youtuber Logan Paul, in which he reacted to the discovery of the body of a man who had hanged himself here. Despite this, it is a popular destination for hikers, cyclists and adventurers.

To find their way back, they mark their path with adhesive tape, a technique that is not very popular with the rangers who take care of the protection of the park. In fact, most of the forest is a protected area, where it is forbidden to damage the vegetation.