The Aokigahara Forest located northwest of Mount Fuji is widely considered the most haunted forest in Japan. It is also sometimes referred to as the “Sea of Trees” because if you view it from above on a windy day, the movement of trees looks like waves rolling in the sea. Despite its beauty and unique lava caves, it has also recently adopted the name “The Suicide Forest”. The 3,500-hectare forest which is green year round grew over the dried lava bed left behind after the eruption of Mount Fuji in 864. The forest is so dense it’s very easy for anyone who wonders off the trails to become lost and the forest floor is so covered with roots, vines, and holes that breaking your ankle is very easy to do. Due to its high concentration of magnetic iron which interferes with cellular and GPS signals, it’s commonly believed that there is no cell reception in the forest, however, while the reception may be limited in some areas where the iron concentration is higher cell phones do work.
During times of severe famine when families didn’t have enough food to feed everyone, it wasn’t uncommon for elderly family members to be left in the forest to die, and it is believed by many that it’s the spirit of these people who haunt the forest. They have become “Yurei”, vengeful spirits who lure people off the forest trails, they’re even said to summon sad and depressed people to the forest to end their lives. When exploring the forest people often use ribbons or tape to mark their path so they can find the way out, or in the case of those considering suicide they use these markers in case they change their minds, however, the Yurei are often accused of removing the markers to stop visitors from finding their way out.
Visitors to the forest as well as those considering suicide sometimes bring tents with them if they plan to spend a night or two in the forest. Many of the those who camp overnight in the forest return with stories of voices and whispering deep within the forest, though none can make out what the voices are actually saying. Visitors to the forest also commonly report finding tents and other camping gear abandoned like the owners had set up their camps and then simply disappeared. While many believe that only those who are considering suicide will hear the voices when visiting the forest, many tourists visiting the Fugaku Wind Caves or the Narusawa Ice Caves hear these voices of the forest or feel that they are being watched or even followed while walking the paths to these caves. People planning to visit the forest or explore these caves are often told by the locals to rub salt on their back, claiming that doing so will stop the Yurei from clinging to them and following them home.
Hikers who venture into the forest also report hearing whispers and claim to see flashes of white apparitions dodging between the trees. Several hikers have reported hearing screams even though there was no one else in the area, except in the case of Rob Gilhooly who after hearing a blood-curdling scream searched and found the body of someone who had been deceased for quite some time. His account of the unnerving experience during his visit to the forest was published in the Japan Times.
Several paranormal television programs have investigated the forest, one of note is “Destination Truth”. During filming in the forest, one of the crew members was violently thrown to the ground by an unseen force. They also filmed what appears to be a ghostly apparition that simply vanishes before your eyes. These are just two encounters that have been caught on film.
While hiking in the forest, an American couple became lost and claim that a Buddhist monk helps them find their way out. A Buddhist Monk is rumored to live deep within the forest, even though no one has ever seen him leave. The local inhabitants believe this monk is a benevolent spirit who stops people from ending their lives or helps those who are lost in the forest find their way out, much like he is said to have done with the lost couple. Buddhist monks have even set up altars in the forest to drive away the evil spirits.
Many skeptics admit they find the forest creepy or foreboding and many of the local people won’t go into the forest because they believe it is cursed. In addition to signs posted in and around the forest urging people to reconsider their choice, suicide patrols were started in 1971 and are maintained around the forest throughout the year. Despite these measures, the rising number of suicides in the forest has had a substantial negative impact on the local economy. With the growing number of bodies to be removed from the forest, storage of the bodies and funeral expenses, the community has had to apply for funding to cover all of these expenses.
In Feudal Japan it was considered honorable for a Samurai to commit suicide by the act of “Seppuku” (the ritual self-disembowelment) and the warrior was often revered after doing so. Seppuku, however, was a privilege reserved only for the upper class, commoners were only allowed two choices when contemplating suicide. They were allowed to either drown or hang themselves, perhaps this is why the second choice is the most popular choice when committing suicide in the forest. It has become a modern problem and many people blame a novel called the “The Black Sea Of Trees” written by Seichō Matsumoto in 1960. In the book, in the style of Romeo and Juliet, a couple decides their only way to escape the situation they had gotten themselves into was for them both to commit suicide together in Aokighara forest. Since the book was published, the suicide rates have risen dramatically as have the sightings of apparitions and ghostly happenings in the forest. It really does make one wonder if it was this novel or the Yurei who call to the sad and depressed to come to the forest.
Additional reading on the Aokigahara Forest: