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What Lies in Mount Fuji’s Shadow: Aokigahara, the “Suicide Forest” of Japan

Updated: Jul 29, 2018



Disclaimer

If you, or anyone else you know is contemplating suicide, please click the link at the bottom of this post to find your local suicide hotline number in your area. No one wants you to die. There are those who are willing to talk to you and give you the strength to keep going. A reason to live can be as close as a text message or just one prayer away. You only get one life, and it’s worth saving.

Aokigahara is a place of both death and beauty. The name means “The Sea of Trees.” It has stood for a thousand years, a twisted, tangled jungle where few wild animals, but many tenacious spiders, make their homes. Located near the base of Mount Fuji on the island of Honshu in Japan, Aokigahara lies just northwest of the mountain and covers 13.51 square miles. Sound small? You haven’t ventured inside…

If you do, don’t leave the path.



According to legend, people centuries ago were taken to the forest and left to die during times of famine. A place so filled with death eventually became known as the Suicide Forest. Japan has the eighteenth highest rate of suicide in the world as of 2018, which means about 30,000 people take their lives there per year. Though the most common cause is likely a lack of mental health services in Japan, there is also the fact that they do not like to make their personal problems known, preferring to keep their feelings private. They also see suicide differently than those in the West. In Japanese culture, suicide has been seen as an honorable way to die for hundreds, if not thousands of years.


If this image doesn't personify Aokigahara, I know of none that do.

The main trail, popular for tourists, is marked by guideposts to help you leave safely, as well as signs that discourage you from ending your life. But for those who choose to stray from the path, leaving can be difficult, if not impossible. In the seemingly endless and silent forest, it is easy to lose one’s way. If getting lost off the trail is not frightening enough, there is also the chance that you will encounter a person who was once alive, forgotten and alone.

It is estimated that the remains of at least a hundred people are removed from the forest every year by police and others who are charged with the sad task of finding the bodies in various states of decomposition. Japanese authorities no longer publicize the numbers in hope that this will decrease the appeal of taking one’s life in a famous place.

The forest bears many signs of human presence. Traces of nooses can often be found off the path, with strips of plastic ribbon leading the way. The ribbons, which have become a sort of trademark of Aokigahara, are tied to the trees by suicide victims (before they died) to act as a breadcrumb trail to find their way out if they choose to live. They also serve as pathways to the dead by those who remove them.


There is no telling how many ribbon trails can be found.

Most of the dead have become so by hanging. Others take their life by overdosing on drugs or by cutting their wrists open. No matter how these people created their sad and lonely ends, their remains are at the mercy of Mother Nature until they are found, if they are ever found at all. The ashes of those lucky to be found are slowly running out of space in the buildings that house the unidentified dead, waiting to be claimed by their families.

The Japanese believe that the forest is haunted by none other than the ghosts of those who have died here. They claim to hear wails of lament, growls, and cries, especially at night.

Aside from the most obvious danger of losing your way, Aokigohara is filled with hidden dangers. The ground itself is rocky and uneven, being composed of volcanic rock that can’t be dug into, and the magnetic properties of it make cell phone service difficult to sustain. One false step can result in an injured ankle or a broken arm. Then there are the spiders. These creatures, though small, routinely build webs large enough to block the pathway. Tourists are advised not to venture in the forest after the sun sets. If you choose to do so, beware of not bringing enough batteries.

The forest monitors have made good progress in talking would-be victims out of making the wrong choice. Suicide hotline numbers posted on signs throughout the forest are often utilized by those who need them, proving very effective in lowering the numbers of those who take their lives, saving about twenty people per year.



Other people of a more creative nature try in their own way to convince those who wish to die to change their mind. Kyochi Watanabe, Ice Cave manager and a musician who lives and works near the infamous forest, plays his guitar and sings outside every night. He says that, “When I sing or play music, sometimes people who are in the forest change their minds and walk out. I thought if I would continue to play music here, people would stop killing themselves.”----from the documentary “Undercover Asia: Saving the Suicide Forest.” Link below.

One of the saddest things about depression is that many people are good at hiding it. They go through life pretending that everything is fine, yet underneath their smile is a dam of tears waiting to burst. What we all need to learn is how to recognize the telltale signs that are not quite as obvious as being “out of sorts.”

I’ve linked a few articles here if you want to check out the not-so-obvious signs of depression:

https://www.romper.com/p/13-little-habits-that-could-be-signs-of-depression-because-the-condition-is-subtle-58810

https://weather.com/health/news/19-signs-youre-depressed-and-dont-know-it-20140116

https://drmargaretrutherford.com/the-ten-characteristics-of-perfectly-hidden-depression/

If you suspect you have some of these characteristics of depression, PLEASE TALK TO SOMEONE AND GET HELP. If you know someone who is depressed, be there for them. Cheer them up. Share a joke (but not at their expense). Make them a batch of cookies as a surprise. Ask them out for coffee with friends. Invite them to church. Bottom line? They need to know they matter, that someone cares. It can make the difference between them choosing to die or choosing to live.


Help them choose life.


Thanks for reading!

Please, ‘Like,’ subscribe, and share with a friend! For more interesting blog posts, please visit my website at www.andriaredlin.com


Video--à Undercover Asia: Saving the Suicide Forest

https://vimeo.com/91924514


International Suicide Hotlines:


http://suicideprevention.wikia.com/wiki/International_Suicide_Prevention_Directoryhttps://drmargaretrutherford.com/the-ten-characteristics-of-perfectly-hidden-depression/Love to #hashtag?



This is what a forest SHOULD look like!


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