Posted in Hiking, Japanese Culture, Trips around Japan, Visit Japan!

Aokigahara

We recently returned from a trip up to the Tokyo area to visit our daughter and her family. While we were there we took a day trip up to Mt. Fuji and the surrounding area of the Aokigahara -Japan’s most mysterious forest.

 

It was my first time to see Mt. Fuji up close.

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It’s an awesome experience. More photos in another post.

This post is about Aokigahara-Japan’s most mysterious and dare I say dangerous forest.

Aokigahara is commonly called Jukai or “The Sea of Trees  樹海”.  It is a 35 square kilometer forest that lies at the north-west base of Mt. Fuji- on the other side of the mountain from where I took these photos.

We drove along the highway up to a lookout point where we were able to view the Jukai and Lake Sai.

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The Jukai is down below the tall trees in the foreground.

Historically the forest is associated with yurei or “angry ghosts”. Japanese priests feel that it’s a place where malevolent energy has accumulated over centuries. Whatever it is- I can tell you from personal experience that there is definitely a “presence” in that forest.

In 1960, Japanese writer Seichō Matsumoto published Kuroi Jukai- about a heartbroken lover that goes to Aokigahara forest to end her life. After the release of the book it was noted that  about 100 people a year enter the forest and never come out having ended their lives within the dense vegetation.

But even before the book was written the Jukai has been a place of tragedy.

The forest has a strange and troubled history. During the Edo period poor families would take the elderly that they could no longer care for and leave them in the forest. The sick would wander in and never come out.

We took the highway that winds around Mt. Fuji and followed it up into the mountains driving deeper and deeper into the forested area. It’s a tremendously beautiful area with log cabins and awesome little cafe’s tucked into a clearing surrounded by massive cedar pines. The whole area is rich in outdoor sports. Everywhere are signs for campsites and lakes where you can rent a small boat and go fishing.

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There are hiking trails and mountain spas…I’d love to go back there.

We had a bit of an idea where the entrance to the Jukai was…but we actually passed it, turned around and pulled in to the parking lot of what looked like a tourist area complete with ice-cream stand and gift shop, to look at a huge map of the area so we could figure out where the entrance to this mysterious forest was.  We had just come from the Narusawa ice cave area down the road.

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Little did we know we were at the official entrance. We finally figured it out when we saw this sign across the road. It was posted next to a small hidden trail and it reads something like: Think carefully about your children and your family”  “Your life is a precious gift from your parents.”- then it gives the number to a suicide prevention agency.

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The parking lot we were in was also an entrance but it’s more the entrance to the official hiking trails….this little trail across the street that was kind of hidden and obscure was the trail that was most frequently used by those who were not planning on coming out of the Jukai. A few paces into the forest along this trail was yet another sign posted by a financial institution with a message that stated something like- you are not alone in your problems-we can help you if you have financial problems please call us!

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These signs are attempts at deterring suicide. The little trail runs right along the side of the road and I didn’t think that anyone would really wander off this trail to kill themselves as it seemed too “out in the open” but I was wrong. As I was looking into the forest I spotted evidence that indeed someone had wandered off the trail here…..

It seems to be customary to bring a roll of plastic tape with you if you plan on killing yourself here. Why? Well…from the evidence that is found over and over again the person will tie the tape around trees and branches and such and unroll it as they walk as deeply as possible into the unbelievably dense vegetation. This is done so that those who patrol the area can find the body later on. Sometimes it’s done in-case the person changes their mind and wants to find their way back out again. Most don’t change their mind judging by the comment of one of the trail patrolmen who said “you always find something at the end”.

My daughter also spotted “something” hidden in the base of a tree. It’s not unusual to find personal items scattered about. If you are brave enough you can google photos of findings…

The item my daughter found had a note tucked into it. We just left it as it was.

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We decided to walk the trails on the other side-where the ice-cream stand and gift shop were. Those trails went deeper into the forest and intersected with many other trails that led to the lake and campgrounds and a few other places…and a shrine- I think.

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Because these trails went deep into the forest you could get a good sense of the atmosphere. The first thing that I noticed was the absolute dead silence. Just a few paces into the trail you could not hear a sound-and I mean you couldn’t hear anything. You could not even hear the rather busy road that cut right in front of the parking lot. Everyone commented on the almost vacuum like silence. I cannot fully explain the absolute absence of sound. It was unnatural. Not even birds were chirping. If Grimm’s Fairy Tales have a real home…this is it.

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I straggled behind because I was fascinated by what I saw and what I didn’t hear.  The forest floor consists of volcanic rock because it is at the very base of a mountain- a dormant volcano actually. Because of this the roots of the trees snake and wind tangle along the ground instead of under it- giving the entire place an eerie feeling.

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We learned that most trees and the mosses growing here are over 300 years old. Moss grew everywhere over the uneven ground making it an extremely dangerous place because it is also filled with underground caverns, holes that drop straight down and hidden caves.

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Everything looked the same. Unlike a “normal” forest where you can see variations in the landscape and markers (like certain trees, rocks…etc..) along the way– this forest was confusing. There are signs everywhere warning you NOT to venture off the trails because it is such an easy place to become lost. I’m willing to bet that if you walked for just one minute into the forest off the trail you would get lost. You would not be able to see the trail and because everything looked the same you wouldn’t know which direction you came from.

Don’t rely on your compass or GPS in here because…they don’t work. Your cell phone probably won’t work either because the rocks and soil are full of magnetic iron.

There are trail patrols that make sure  hikers and such keep to the trails and for good reason. There have been many people who have not heeded the advice to stay on the trails and have gotten lost ….their bodies being found by the annual “sweeps” by volunteers just before the holidays begin. Once a year volunteers enter the forest to recover bodies-the current stats are around 100 per year… that they find.

At times bones are found that have obviously been hidden in the undergrowth for a few years. The annual sweeps don’t find everyone all the time.

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notice how dense the forest is….

 We wandered the trails for a bit until we met with a forest patrol who told us that we should probably turn around and start heading out as it was 4pm already and it got dark in the forest very quickly. The dense vegetation also keeps the light from reaching the forest floor. We exited the trail but I wanted just one more look….so I asked my daughter to stand at the trail entrance so she could see me and I walked in a bit…and just stood there.

I contemplated the reasons why this is the number two spot in the world that people come to end their lives-the number one spot being the Golden Gate Bridge.

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I’m not a superstitious person but I tell you the truth-I had this overwhelming urge to walk off the trail and into the forest and not stop. It is so mysteriously beautiful and it calls you…sounds absolutely loony but I’m really being honest here. I don’t think it is a good idea to wander the trails alone. Not these trails….

If you visit here please heed the warning signs and stay on the trail. Some people reading this might think they wouldn’t get lost here…because they have “experience”. My daughter and her husband have professional experience in outdoor survival and both of them said there is no way they would wander off the trail in this area.

That would be…suicide.

Author:

Loving life in rural Japan-writer,gardener,hiker, photographer,crochet artist, chief cook and bottle washer!

12 thoughts on “Aokigahara

      1. As I was reading I was strongly reminded of Mirkwood, the forest Tolkien described as a danger and obstacle in The Hobbit. Even the photos fit. Isn’t Mt. Fuji considered a holy place?

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  1. I did not know the tragic history of this area. Your photos perfectly evoked the feelings you were describing. Awaji Island is also a famous suicide spot for the Osaka/Kansai area. People jump into the sea. I’m glad you showed the suicide prevention signs posted along the trail. I hope they are doing their job successfully.

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    1. I read an article tha stated the authorities are refraining from posting the number of suicides committed each year in hopes of downplaying the publicity a bit…

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    2. The police regularily check the parking lot after closing time- they scout for vehicles left behind…..a sign that someone entered the Jukai and didnt come out. I would not want to work there.

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