At the foot of Japan’s iconic Mt. Fuji, lying sprawled amongst some of the most majestic scenery in Japan, lies the haunted destination of broken souls known as Aokigahara, often referred to as the “Sea of Trees” and more infamously as the demon infested “Suicide Forest.” Aokigahara Forest lies at the northwest base of the picturesque Mt. Fuji, which looms over the trees with its majestic peak. The area is a starkly beautiful landscape renowned for its breathtaking scenery and vistas, which has made it very popular for hikers and visitors. The forest itself is approximately 35 square km (14 square miles) in area and from a distance seems like an idyllic, pristine wilderness area. However, looks can be deceiving, and The Sea of Trees has accrued a sinister reputation as one of Japan’s most haunted and evil places.
The moment one steps into Aokigahara, it quickly becomes apparent that something is slightly off about the place. The first thing one may notice is the disconcerting silence here. The density of of the closely packed trees blocks the sun and wind, producing a dark, eerie blanket of quiet, which is further compounded by the curious lack of wildlife in the area. The sounds of birds and other wildlife that one might expect to hear chirping and chattering in abundance are oddly absent or subdued here, as if they have shunned this place or are hiding from something. Some visitors have described the quality of sounds here as somewhat muted, as if being heard through a thick veil or from another room. One may also notice that compasses do not work properly here. The needle may jerk and jump about spasmodically, or conversely do slow, languid circuits around and around. It is said that this is caused by magnetic anomalies induced by the rich deposits of magnetic iron in the area’s volcanic soil, yet the disorienting effect of the forest goes beyond merely rendering compasses useless. Many hikers that venture into Aokigahara, even experienced ones, claim that it is oddly easy to get lost or confused in this dark and silent place. It is not uncommon to hear stories of hikers inexplicably traveling around in circles, or of being unable to navigate even short distances successfully. This bizarre effect has led to many visitors planting markers or plastic tape in order not to lose their way.
One may also become aware of the bizarre and creepy litter strewn about the forest floor in places. Pairs of shoes, both for children and adults, lined up upon moss covered, gnarled logs. A packet of entirely mundane photographs, song lyrics scrawled upon the envelope, lying forgotten and untouched amongst the underbrush. A child’s doll lying wide eyed atop the twisted roots of a tree, its vacant eyes staring up as if trying to peer through the crooked branches above that blot out the sky. One can find a plethora of such odd trinkets and abandoned items interspersed among the trees. These items seem jarring and out of place here on the forest floor of this otherwise pristine wilderness, and only serve to add to a growing sense of foreboding. Regardless of such eerie occurrences, many tourists still visit the area to see the magnificent scenery and the numerous rocky caverns scattered throughout the forest. Many of these caverns are dangerous to the unwary, and warning signs are a common sight interspersed amongst the thick trees, yet large numbers of visitors still brave the trek to see them every year.
Above and beyond the unsettling elements of the forest, there is an even darker side to Aokigahara. In addition to those brought here for the scenic beauty, caverns, and hiking, there are also the droves of poor, lost souls who come here every year to die. Often referred to rather morbidly as “The perfect place to die,” Aokigahara is said to be the most popular place to go to commit suicide in Japan and the second in the world after The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Since at least the 1950s, the forest has attracted ever growing numbers of people who come to the solitude here for their final breaths, with 2003 seeing a record number of 108 suicides. These are only the bodies that are found by monthly patrols and annual “body hunts,” in which police and volunteers scour the forest for victims, and many are never found.
It is said that the number is likely even higher than thought due to the remoteness of some of the areas within the forest, the numerous caves, crevasses, and caverns, and the forest’s ability to quickly and thoroughly decompose remains. Some of the bodies of these victims are stumbled across by visitors to the area, who while hiking through the otherwise beautiful wilderness may happen across the horrific sight of a corpse hung from a tree or a skeleton with its legs poking out of the dense foliage on the forest floor. It is difficult for police and volunteers to locate all of the dead hidden away within this dark wood, or to accurately estimate how many have died, and implore visitors to report any corpses they may stumble across, the true number of victims unknown. The only thing that seems to be known for sure is that every year the number of those who come to Aokigahara to die seems to be increasing, around 100 a year by some estimates, to the point that authorities have taken certain measures such as putting up signs throughout the area urging those who have given up hope to reconsider their actions and turn back, as well as installing security cameras and sending out police patrols.
It might come as no surprise at all that the forest is said to be intensely haunted, a cursed place even, and there are many chilling stories from the forest dealing with the supernatural. Even before records were kept on suicides within Aokigahara forest, the area had long been steeped in spooky lore and mythology. The dim forest was long thought to be the haunt of demons and vengeful ghosts who prowled the landscape and terrified travelers. Living in Japan myself, I am fortunate to have received a lot of personal accounts from various witnesses illustrating some very unusual experiences within this dark wood, ranging from the creepy to the downright terrifying. I will share a few of them here, and all of the names are pseudonyms used for the sake of anonymity. One account comes from a Kenji, who made a trip to Aokigahara to go hiking and also admittedly out of a macabre curiosity after having long heard all of the stories. He says he was hiking with a friend at the time, and things first got strange when they noticed that the forest around them was unusually calm and quiet, as if every sound of the trees was muffled and far off. They then noticed what they at first took to be another hiker walking about through the trees, but this would turn out to be something far weirder. The witness says:
We thought this was another guy out there, but then we noticed that there was no detail to this person, no color. It was as if he, I felt it was a he, was just a shadow without any features. He also seemed to be following us, but he was way off the trail, just out in the trees, and there was not sound of footsteps or crunching leaves. This was strange, but it got stranger when I watched this figure pass behind some trees. I expected him to come back out from behind the trees, but instead he was suddenly about 10 meters ahead, as if he had just teleported. There is no way anyone could have covered that distance without me noticing it. After some time of this, the strange intruder stood there watching us and then just faded away right before our eyes. My friend and I were quick to head back.
Just about as creepy was another witness who was out hiking and had a chilling experience that certainly seems to be rather paranormal in nature. This time it was a woman, who I will call Keiko, who was out for a hike with two others at the time. They had already passed some rather unsettling things on their hike, such as a shoe that had been sitting out in the middle of the trail they were on, just a single shoe abandoned there in the middle of the forest for no apparent reason, as well as what looked like a doll in the bushes off to the side. However, things got very odd when they heard what sounded like crying off in the forest. The witness says:
We heard what sounded like a woman weeping. It was very strange, but got more alarming when it seemed to actually get louder. We thought it might be someone out there in trouble, so we headed off the trail to see if we could find this person. It was odd, because as we made our way to what we thought was the source of the crying it seemed to move farther away, leading us deeper into the woods. Making it all scarier was that the crying seemed to get more desperate and anguished as we pursued it. We called out to whoever it was, but they did not respond. They just cried.
We got pretty deep into the woods, this crying eluding us the whole time, until we finally seemed to be getting closer to the source. The crying got louder and louder, we were almost there. And then it suddenly stopped. Just stopped altogether. We were a bit bewildered, and then my friend sort of gasps and points, and there hanging from a tree was a noose, holding the remains of what had once been a woman. We got out of there fast and contacted the authorities. It was another suicide. I’ve always wondered if what we heard was the ghost of that woman leading us to her forgotten corpse.
One recurring type of paranormal experience reported from Aokigahara is the sense that something has sometimes followed people back. It seems some spiritual energy has in these cases managed to attach itself to those passing through, and in some cases it can turn out to be quite frightening. One witness came to me with a story that seems to suggest that not only did something follow them back, but may have even tried to possess one of them. This report comes from a man who had visited Aokigahara with his wife. He says the whole time they were there they had been beset with a heavy feeling of being watched and followed, even though they could not see anyone around. This ill-defined feeling of dread got worse as they continued, as if it were clinging to them, and it got to the point there the wife felt as if she couldn’t breather and wanted to leave. They got back out of the forest and on their way home, and the wife was still sort of in a panic, hyperventilating and saying that she felt light headed. This was all very strange, yet in the coming days it would become apparent that there was something very wrong with her. The witness says:
My wife began having what I can only call “episodes.” She would suddenly fall into a sort of trance where she would space out completely, totally unresponsive, then when she snapped out of it she would have no memory of this. This began to happen more and more often, and I thought she was perhaps having some sort of effect from stress. Then one day she started talking in her sleep in a voice that was not her own, talking about people who we did not know. My wife never talks in her sleep, and this was not her voice. This continued on for about a week. We eventually visited a Shinto priest and her condition stopped. I feel to this day that something followed us back from that forest, although I am not sure what.
Was this some sort of spirit attachment from that forest? Did something really follow them back and try to inhabit this woman? Perhaps even more frightening than this is a sort of possession that has overtaken some people who journey to Aokigahara, in which they feel dark thoughts and compulsions that they do not believe to be their own. One case that illustrates this was conveyed to be by a man we’ll call Michio. He describes himself as a fun-loving, optimistic person who took a day trip to Aokigahara from Tokyo one clear day in the summer time. Michio was not suicidal or morose at all when he entered those trees, but he says that this changed at some point during his hike, when he began to have visions of faces he did not recognize, and things only got worse from there. He explains:
I began to have these memories of people I did not know. These memories came to me unbidden, and just popped into my head as clear as day. As I walked on I started to get this deep sense of despondency, fleeting images of sadness in my head. It was unbearable. But what made it even worse is that I began to hear this whispering in my ear, this insistent voice that told me to end it all, and I started to feel that I wanted to die. I felt compelled to kill myself, and I might have if I had had the means to do it. I sat down there right in the forest as this voice whispered to me and it was the most crushing sense of loneliness and despair I have ever experienced. Then another hiker came through and this wave of angst just lifted and I was myself again. I can’t quite explain it, but I feel like something visited me there in that forest and tried to take me.
What is it about this locale that draws such stories to itself and why is it that so many people come here to die? Is the land itself imbued with some negative spiritual energy, the very earth sour and stained with a malevolent taint? Why should this place of such physical beauty be such a magnet for such pervasive tales of inscrutable dark supernatural forces? Whether you believe in these paranormal phenomena or not, stepping into this forest is certainly an eerie experience, well-suited to tales of ghosts and spirits, and knowing of all of the deaths that have happened here makes it all even more disturbing. It is a land of beauty which under its veneer holds a morbid quality, and whether there are ghosts here or not, Aokigahara has a dark mystique that will likely keep tales such as these alive.