During our trip to Mt. Fuji, we took the chance to visit the Aokigahara forest, also known as the Suicide Forest. You may have heard of this forest from the upcoming horror movie The Forest, starring Natalie Dormer. Yes, that’s the same forest from the movie, and it feels just as eerie, minus the exaggeration of supernatural activities.
The forest spans 35 square-kilometres and lies northwest of Mt. Fuji. It has a strong association with spirits and ghosts, and is one of the most attractive spots for suicides. In the highly controversial Japanese book “The Complete Manual of Suicide”, the author recommended hanging at the Aokigahara forest as an elegant way to commit suicide.
Every month, local authorities scour the place to collect dead bodies and items related to them. Some locals go in to look for people who are still alive and contemplating suicide – such people would bring tents and ropes so they can find their way out if they decided to give life a chance.
Ironically, the view outside the forest is stunning – the majestic snow-capped Mt. Fuji stands tall and mighty, surrounded by plenty of shrubs & greenery, and magnificent ice and wind caves.
As you enter the dense forest though, the sounds of nature quietens and only dead silence hangs in the air. The only signs of life you can hear come from your own footsteps, shallow breaths and palpitating heartbeat. The lack of any insect or animal sounds intuitively told us that this was no place for a human to stay longer than just a few hours in.
I’m someone who loves spontaneous adventure and wandering off the beaten path, but inside there, my survival instincts told me to stay on the path, stay on the path! Losing my way in the forest would also have possibly meant losing my life – i can’t imagine surviving in a place where even insects or animals didn’t seem to exist, where the trees stood so close together they could even trap your voice within the forest. The temperature was also close to freezing point since it was winter – don’t let the sunlight in the photos fool you!
We (thankfully) didn’t find anything spooky or encountered anything supernatural, but the experience of walking through the forest was still an eerie one. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but the air just felt really heavy and the silence deafening.
I can’t imagine how it would feel for someone with depression, who’s contemplating suicide, to walk through this forest and drown in his/her negative thoughts. If you happen to be alone in there, there’s nothing – no animal, no human, no flower, to convince you with a positive thought.
It just makes me sad to think about all the people who came through here with intentions to die – what was going through their minds? Did they really think dying here would be elegant? Did they regret it once they stepped foot in there?
Going through the suicide forest reminded me of why I chose to go into the field of psychology. There are people who are suffering from mental illnesses like depression, who need help but do not or cannot find help, who have lost their lives when they could have been saved, but we didn’t manage to save them. I wish to do more about removing the stigma relating to mental illnesses, so that such people have no fears about visiting a psychologist.
There are several signs like this near the entrances of the forest. It’s the authorities’ attempt to dissuade people who are contemplating suicide. It says: “Your life is a precious gift from your parents. Let’s think once more about your parents, siblings, and children. Don’t suffer alone and please contact somebody. (Hotline number below)”
I’m not sure how effective those are…but I hope they do work.
It’s a little crazy how this forest seems to encapsulate and hide everything in the dark, while just outside the forest, the views look bright and beautifully chirpy. Perhaps this is a reminder to be conscious of the feelings and mental states of people around you, to ask how a friend is doing, to ask whether a family member is feeling alright, because sometimes it’s just difficult to tell how someone is faring from the outside.