The sign, rather than being a warning of the dangers ahead, reads more like a final, desperate plea:
Your life is a precious gift from your parents. Please think about your parents, siblings and children. Don’t keep it to yourself. Talk about your troubles.
It is also a reminder to all who enter the place, for here in the shadow of Mount Fuji, a labyrinth-like cove of rugged trees, stony caverns and frozen circling paths forms the Aokigahara forest. It is a place where an untold number of deaths have repeatedly occurred–perhaps with horrifying frequency–for decades.
Since 2002, more than 100 annual deaths in the region were recorded for a two-year period, and while the numbers have dropped in recent years, the dozens of annually reported deaths in Aokigahara remain a great concern for local government officials. But with such obvious existential threat associated with the place, why then would hundreds have come here, year after year, never to return?
It’s because they came with no intention of ever leaving.
Weekend getaways and the opportunity for holiday retreats often draw outdoors enthusiasts to remote areas of the world, in search of an escape from the everyday, or perhaps even from reality… but what about from living in general? For decades, the Aokigahara forest at the northwest base Japan’s famous Mount Fuji has accumulated a grim reputation for just this sort of “getaway,” for being the world’s greatest suicide magnet.
Many trace the story of the forest’s allure back to a novel written in 1960 by one of Japan’s most renowned and prolific authors, Seichō Matsumoto, whose crime-fiction novels were often serialized in magazines. Among Matsumoto’s earliest works, Kuroi Jukai (meaning “Black Sea of Trees”) is a mystery detailing the investigation of presumed murders that transpire in conjunction with a bus accident. The name “Black Sea of Trees” has since been used as an alternative name for the haunting Aokigahara region; however, reports of unusually high numbers of suicides in the area pre-date the publication of Kuroi Jukai, despite the area’s macabre appeal having apparently grown in recent years.
It is believed that the area may have also been a locale where the abandonment of elderly relatives (known as ubasute) may have been practiced as recently as the late 1800s. Local folklore maintains that the spirits of these angry relatives who were deserted in the forest may count among the spirits presumed to haunt the area, although legends go further back which claim the area is the home of demons, believed by some to influence those who have taken their own lives while in the Aokigahara.
In conjunction with Vice, geologist Azusa Hayano visited the Aokigahara as cameras documented his studies of the area. The video below details Hayano’s visit; viewers please note that it may feature some graphic content.
According to area officials, hanging and drug overdose are among the most frequent causes of self-inflicted death or injury in the Aokigahara forest annually. Forest workers also are purportedly inundated with the chore of cleaning various paths throughout the forest of the colored tape used by thrill-seekers to chart their paths as they explore the eerie location.
Additionally, according to the Japan Times, deaths are so high in Aokigahara that statistics for self injury and suicide in the surrounding jurisdiction are skewed each year, as those whose desire to end their lives in the forest include visitors from outside the area.