Aokigahara is one of the most beautiful forests I’ve ever hiked in. It’s also the most haunting.
Known also by the name of Jukai, which translates to the ‘sea of trees,’ Aokigahara is located near the base of Mt. Fuji in Japan, about 100 miles from Tokyo. When we visited, we decided to drive and it took us about an hour and a half to get there from Fussa. It was a cool day, very overcast and foggy. The locals were much better dressed than we were since we weren’t really prepared for the light rain that we encountered. Even though we were close to Mt. Fuji, we were unable to see the mountain because the fog was so thick.
There are three caves in the vicinity: the Narusawa Ice Cave, the Fugaku Wind Cave, and the Bat Cave. The Ice and Wind Caves are designated as natural monuments in Japan and one can visit them all year round. We went inside the Wind Cave; tickets cost about 300 ¥ each. Signs warned that the floor may be slippery due to ice build-up and for visitors to mind their heads. The cave itself was very chilly with large blocks of ice reaching from the floor to the ceiling. At 0-3 degrees Centrigrade, it was cold enough to be a natural refrigerator. More information on the caves can be found here.
After exploring the Wind Cave, the old man working at the ticket booth drew out a small map, pointing out the entrance to a relatively short hike through the forest. There are many trails, but we didn’t want to hike for hours on this particular day. Lush and thick with trees, the forest was incredibly dense and eerily quiet. There isn’t much wildlife living in the area, and all one could hear was the wind gently blowing through the branches and leaves of the many trees. Our voices and laughter broke the silence as we walked along the dirt path.
Most individuals would know the forest by its other name, the Suicide Forest. It’s heartbreaking that a beautiful place would have such a sad story and sad history. Unfortunately, the thick and quiet forest is a place for those who wish to commit suicide because it’s so secluded. There are many signs on the edges of the forest in both Japanese and/or English urging those who are deeply depressed to think about their own lives, their friends, and their families. A hotline phone number is also provided for those who are desperate.
The suicide forest is the second most popular suicide spot in the world, next to the Golden Gate Bridge. Authorities used to report the number of bodies found in the forest but have since stopped in an attempt to deter those thinking about suicide. There are many theories as to why it’s a popular spot for ending one’s life. The custom of ubasute, where elderly relatives are taken away and left to die in the forest, has led many to believe that their souls now haunt the forest. The 1960 novel Kuroi Jukai by Seicho Matsumoto was another influence, referencing a young couple taking their lives in the forest.
There many locals who refuse to enter Aokigahara because they believe it is haunted. I had chills as we hiked, even though we stayed on the established trail. The forest was so thick, you could probably get disoriented while trying to find your way. It was easy to see why someone with such sadness would be drawn to such a secluded and lonely place.
I definitely hope to go back. Despite the creepiness, Aokigahara is breathtaking and well worth visiting for a short or an all day hike. For more information, a documentary on the forest can be found here.