Cultural Psychology

Japan’s Suicide Forest

Called the “perfect place to die,” the Aokigahara forest in Japan is known as being the world’s second most popular place to die by suicide – with an estimation of up to 105 bodies being found in the forest each year. Signs with warnings like ‘please reconsider’, ‘think carefully about your children, your family’ and ‘you don’t have to suffer alone’ are posted throughout the forest.

At the foot of Mount Fuji, the highest mountain peak in Japan, is a 30-square-kilometer forest called Aokigahara. For some visitors, Aokigahara is a beautiful place to hike and venture into spectacular landscapes, such as The Ice Cave and the Wind Cave, and witness amazing views of Mount Fuji. Others go into the forest attracted by its quietness, as there’s barely any wildlife within the mass of trees, and myths of it being haunted. However, in recent years, the forest has seen an increase in the number of individuals going in with plans of not coming out.

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Legend has it that during feudal times, when food became scarce, a family would take a dependent elderly relative (usually a female relative) to a remote location and leave them there to die, in order to lessen the amounts of mouths to feed. This practice referred to as ubasute, which roughly translates to ‘abandoning the old woman’, is the origins of the Aokigahara Forest. However, most insist that this was not a real occurrence and is just an instance of grim folklore. Instead, many are attributing the 1960 tragic novel, Kuroi Jukai often translated as The Black Sea of Trees, as having the largest influence on Japanese culture and the use of the forest, due to the story’s lovers committing suicide within the Aokigahara Forest. Additionally, a 1993 book named ‘The Complete Manual of Suicide’ by Wataru Tsurumi has increased the suicide rates; as the author described the forest as the perfect place to commit suicide and even described which parts of the forest are less circulated so bodies wouldn’t be found until later on. Copies of this book have been found within the possessions of those who’ve have taken their life while in the forest.  However, as early as the 1950s, tourists were reporting encounters of finding decomposing bodies within the forest – leading to the mystery of how this location became to be what it is.

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Regardless of why, Aokigahara has seen more suicides than any other location in the world, with the exception of the Golden Gate Bridge. While hanging is the method of suicide most commonly associated with trips to Aokiagahara Forest, it’s not the only way people end their lives there. In fact, the forest is the site of many self-induced poisonings and overdoses, as well.

The local government has made valiant efforts to discourage visitors of the forest from committing suicide. One way in which they attempted to do this was by stopping the publication of annual data reporting the number of suicide victims found within the forest. They’ve implemented frequent patrols of the forests, with individuals trained to help talk those out of the choice to commit suicide. These individuals will approach anybody that’s wandering alone in the forest and will even approach those camping in the forests; due to the assumption that campers in the forest are undecided about whether or not to take their own lives.

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In the following post, we will explore the reasons why so many are choosing to end their lives in Japan, and how those factors are affecting Japanese Americans.

Sources:

  • All That’s Interesting. The Creepy Confines of Akoigahara, Japan’s Suicide Forest. Published 2011, updated 2018.
  • Aokiagahara forest (青木ヶ原). Aokiagahraforest.com
  • Crow, Sarah. 33 Facts About Japan’s Suicide Forest That Will Freak You Out. Best Life. 2018.
  • Nedelman, Michael. Inside Japan’s ‘suicide forest’. CNN. 2018
  • Puchko, Kristy. 15 Eerie Things About Japan’s Suicide Forest. Mental Floss. 2016.

Since completing my undergraduate studies, I've dedicated my time to supporting and empowering individuals with behavioral health issues. This blog is to be a platform for the behavioral health community; examining the history of behavioral health and the progressions made within the field while providing information and resources to those who need it.

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