Haunted History: Aokigahara Forest - Japan's Sea of Trees
Updated: Aug 8
I will be honest. A major reason that I traveled alone from Tokyo to Aokigahara Forest, which consisted of two trains and three buses, was the dense history of suicide associated with it. I know that sounds morbid, but it’s honest. I was fascinated with learning more about this mysterious place where so many people chose to end their lives. It’s also a big part of Japanese horror culture, finding its way into many films, online stories and accounts. What I found instead was one of the most peaceful and beautiful experiences of my life. I visited Japan in 2017 and am only now getting around to sharing this.
(Here I am, moody and spooky in the forest.)
Aokigahara is also known as the Sea of Trees and it’s about 12 square miles. It’s on the NorthWest side of Mount Fuji. Which I have totally fallen in love with. This forest was actually formed on top of volcanic rock from Mount Fuji eruptions long ago. The volcanic rock causes compasses to align with the rocks natural magnetism, instead of pointing North. You can easily connect why a forest where compasses don’t work correctly could become the center of folklore and rumor.
When I met the guide who took me through the forest, I didn’t want to bring up the suicides. It felt inappropriate.
His name is Yuji. He is a gentleman who was focused on the beauty of the place, not the darkness of it. He is wonderful! We still talk to this day. I hope to one day return and have him guide me through a hike up Mt. Fuji. At one point we came across some American tourists who were lost along the trail.
Yuji was very concerned about them, he helped them find their way and then told me that it is very dangerous for tourists alone in the forest because there are no English signs, compasses don’t work and there is no service for WiFi. He said many people get very lost, the woods are dense and deep.
(Yuji pointing out things to me on a map, with his pointer! He also used this pointer to demonstrate the magnetic fields in the forest.)
We briefly talked about the suicides, he said it’s over hyped and that it isn’t in the part of the forest we were in. He didn’t want to bring attention to it. In recent years Japan has stopped publicizing the yearly death counts associated with the forest to also stop bringing attention to it. But to give you a sense, in 2003 there were 105 bodies found. The numbers seem to increase in March, at the end of Japan’s fiscal year. There are many signs in the parking lots that ask visitors to reconsider taking their own lives.
Part of the lure is that it’s so easy to get lost in these woods, so someone who wants to attempt won’t be able to go back on it or ‘escape.’ Which is a terrifying thought. In certain parts you’re encouraged to run ropes from where your car is, to where you go, so that you can follow it back out. Many rescuers who monitor the woods and parking lots will keep their eye on abandoned cars and then search out the area of the forest near the car for anyone who needs help or counsel. There are a lot of YouTube videos of these rescuers actually finding people to help or save. And also some less positive outcomes as well.
It’s devastating that so many people feel this way. Though the forest has a dark history it’s also a place of peace and beauty. The flora felt like a fairytale and I have very fond memories of it.
It is very hard to get a good view of Mt. Fuji because of the perpetual cloud cover but at the end of our trip Yuji had brought me to a local market and bought me dried mango, a snack that his kids loved. He wanted me to see the beauty of the mountain and it took my breath away. We had a thirty second window of a full view. What a beauty.
I am very, very proud of this solo adventure. Taking a day trip into a haunted forest. Traveling alone several hours and with several bus exchanges in a non-English speaking part of Japan was wild. Thankfully the Japanese are incredibly nice and helpful. Meeting Yuji and fulfilling this part of the trip was super rewarding. I felt traveled and confident and proud. Not to mention moved by the beauty of rural Japan. Hopefully I can return one day. I have very fond memories.