Aokigahara Jukai, literally translated as “The Sea of Trees,” is a dense forest skirting the base of Mt. Fuji in Japan. It is a strange forest, an interesting eco-system where trees and undergrowth have grown over volcanic rock silted up more than 1200 years ago from one of Mt. Fuji’s major eruptions. A deep, web-like blanket of lichen connects the trees in the deepest part of the forest, giving the appearance of firm ground but in fact hiding deep crevices in the lava base underneath. The outskirts of the forest have been redeveloped as nature walks, and on the edge of the deepest part of the sea of trees are two caves regularly visited by tourists interested in exploring and photographing the unique geology and ice formations inside.This alone would make Aokigahara Jukai an interesting feature of Japan, one that might appeal to naturalists and “ecological” tourists, but little more. But in fact, Aokigahara is infamous, notorious, a horror unto itself, and the most haunted place in the world.
When I started this series I had this place in mind as a definite for my list of Most Haunted Places in the World. It was only after really researching it, studying it, gazing mutely at the disturbing images of real suicide victims in states of morbid suspended animation in little nooks and crannies of this immense, sad sea of trees that I realized this was the most haunting place I had ever encountered. Long after the computer was turned off, over a long period of days, the images and the story continued to haunt me like nothing I have ever experienced. I could not get it off my mind. That a place could have such power, could convey such unnerving emotion merely through cyberspace glances of its ghostly reality, convinced me this place simply had to be number one.
Aokigahara Jukai is a place I never want to visit. Others who have encountered this forest firsthand often use the other name for it, “Kuroi Jukai,” or “Black Sea of Trees,” to describe it, and have all returned from it with the same impression: it is the scariest and most disturbing place on earth, and a place they never, ever want to visit again.
Aokigahara Jukai has a history of being associated with death and evil spirits long before it became a popular place for suicide. Ubasute, the practice of abandoning the elderly and infirm, was allegedly performed in Japan at least until feudal times when harvests were poor, or drought and famine prevailed in the land. The forest at the feet of Mt. Fuji was one of the notable places where the practice was common.
Deep inside the forest the air is thick and everything is green. An eerie silence prevails and one is suddenly conscious of the profundity of that silence – there is no birdsong, the wind blows but the leaves of the trees never rustle, even the spongy, lichen-choked ground swallows the sound of footsteps. Fear soon becomes the visitor’s constant companion: fear of getting lost, fear of seeing the remnants of a suicidal death, fear of seeing another living person in there with you, perhaps trying to summon up the courage to go through with the deed. Death is all around and by now the visitor just wants to get the hell out.
I said above that I would never want to visit Aokigahara Jukai even if I had the opportunity to do so. Certainly, my interest in folklore, ghosts, and hauntings makes the forest an attractive subject, but this in itself is almost embarrassing to admit: simply put, no matter what my interests, there is nothing at all attractive about an open grave. Aokigahara Jukai is just such a thing – an open grave. Under the choking canopy of tangled vines and thick tree branches is, essentially, a mass grave where the dead lay atop the ground to decompose, to be disturbed by scavenger animals, to deteriorate and be rendered into ecological matter – and all in sight of the living, if the living so choose. In addition to the myriad emotions Aokigahara Jukai evokes in us, it also casts us – the living – in roles with which we are not comfortable. In the end, Aokigahara Jukai is the face of death looking directly at us, and we are left with all the guilt of a morbid voyeur, one who has been caught out looking at things he or she cannot conceive of, things he or she should never have to see.
Anyone who has visited Aokigahara Jukai and written about it has felt the need to add a disclaimer for their readers. This seems to mostly be fueled by that voyeur’s guilt just mentioned, the knee-jerk reaction of being caught in the act of looking at something horrible and being fascinated by it. Once exposed, the writer seeks to feel obligated to distance him- or herself and the words that follow end up seeming perfunctory and forced. They went, they saw, and they were fascinated even by the corpses rotting in clear view, and this, they feel overwhelmingly, is wrong. Then comes the expected disclaimer that anyone contemplating suicide should not visit Aokigahara Jukai, should stop and think, as the forest’s signs say, about family and loved ones, about the precious gift of life. And this last is something I am completely in agreement with.
Life is precious and there is at least one thing in each person’s life that makes the thought of suicide heinous to contemplate. Even if you are someone who feels God has somehow “tricked” you, has put those people or things into your life because He knew you’d have to struggle and couldn’t just opt for an easy way out. But many thousands of people across the world stop to think about these things, and then proceed to take their lives anyway.
So I, too, will add a disclaimer: If you or someone you know is contemplating or has contemplated suicide, do not hesitate to get help immediately. It is never so bad that death is a better option. Tell a friend, confide in family, tell your doctor, or go to a hospital. There’s no shame in it, and this is the usual place where healing begins. If the hauntings of Aokigahara Jukai tell us anything, it is that.
"The Perfect Place"
A short documentary film by a pair of Swedish filmmakers who enter Aokigahara Jukai as skeptics - even more than once suggesting to each other that what they were seeing were "props" - but who leave fully consumed by the moribund spell that it Japan's Suicide Forest.
How to Get There, Where to Stay . . .The starting point for a journey to Aokigahara Jukai is the town of Kawaguchiko, the last stop before Mt. Fuji and the forest. Kawaguchiko can be reached directly by train or bus from Tokyo, a two and a half hour trip (so start out early) that will set you back approximately ¥2600 (cash only). In July and August the buses can be crowded with hikers and mountain climbers heading out to the trails of Mt. Fuji.
There are guest houses and hostels in the Kawaguchiko area, and referrals to these locations are easier to come by. Don’t expect anything fancy, but the places are described as clean and comfortable. There are restaurants and cafes in Kawaguchiko, and convenience type stores where you can purchase miscellaneous supplies.
If You Go . . .Paranormalists have visited and investigated Aokigahara Jukai before with mixed results; even filmmakers not intent on capturing anything supernatural have found evidence of it on their film. However, even considering the numerous physical challenges of this natural location, the one thing the paranormal researcher or investigator should always keep prominently in mind is the very real danger posed by the unhappy spirits of literally hundreds of suicides that have occurred here in modern times alone. Occult tradition teaches that the spirits of suicide victims are forced into a state similar to what is described as purgatory: the manufactured cessation of life and the interrupted course of development experienced by these spirits condemn them to remain in this in-between state for what would have been the natural span of their lives. Paradoxically, then, the ultimate act of free will – self-killing – actually locks the spirit in an unhappy, unsatisfied state. These spirits who, for whatever reason, were desperate enough to murder themselves, and who are now stuck in that realization, will not hesitate to attach or obsess the living in order to vicariously experience life again or, more dangerously, to drive the living to a similar end. Paranormalists actively seeking spirit contact inside the gloom of Aokigahara Jukai may very well get much more than they ever expected. In the end, then, it might be best to be satisfied with just knowing this place exists, and to explore it from a distance, rather than seeking to experience it firsthand.
Travel Blogger Punynari ventured into Aokigahara Jukai alone, on a less-than-picture-perfect day and managed to capture some of the eternal spookiness - and to scare himself as well! Here is his You Tube posting:
Images and Additional insight can be found at the following blogs:
Punynari's Island Adventures:
End of the Game Blog: My Journey to Aokigahara Jukai