Wednesday, May 29, 2013

NOW AVAILABLE!! The 2013 HOODOO ALMANAC!  A must-have for the folklorist, historian, and practitioners of every stripe, the 2013 Hoodoo Almanac contains a wealth of information that NEVER GOES OUT OF DATE!  Each Almanac is library-worthy and a collectible compendium that you will want to refer to again and again!  If you have not purchased your 2012 Hoodoo Almanac be sure to catch up by ordering it along with the second issue of this unique and truly fascinating reference work!  Available NOW at

JOIN ME at BAYOU CON, southwest Louisiana's best multi-genre convention, June 29 and 30 in Lake Charles, LA  I will be anchoring the paranormal programming along with Bernadine LeBlanc and the Louisiana State Paranormal Research Society and other paranormal guests.  Join in the panels, have your copies of PURLOINED STORIES and the 2013 HOODOO ALMANAC personally signed by me, or have a personal face-to-face reading!  Come out and represent for the paranormal at BAYOU CON!  Visit for more info!

Friday, May 17, 2013

The 13 Most Haunted Places in the World: No. 1, Aokigahara Jukai, The Suicide Forest, Japan.
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.  
In modern times, Aokigahara Jukai’s infamy far outpaces its previous notoriety thanks in large part to the book “Kanzen Jisatsu Manyuaryu” or, “The Complete Book of Suicide” by Wataru Tsurimi.  First published in 1993, the book describes and analyzes a variety of suicide methods ranging from hanging and overdosing to self-immolation and freezing; there is even a chapter entitled “Miscellaneous.”  Author Wataru shows no particular preference for any one method over the other, although the book does provide details on how painful each method is, how much planning goes into each method, the success rate of the method, and even details about what the condition of the body will be when it is found(according to the method chosen).  The book does not spend a lot of time philosophizing about life or death, nor does it endorse any one method over another, but it is possible that its descriptions of how disturbing the sight of the suicide victim might be for family, relatives, and friends may compel an individual intent on ending his or her life to seek out a hidden or remote place.  For this grim purpose there is not a more hidden or remote place, indeed no place more fitting, than the brooding, alien landscape of Aokigahara Jukai.

On average, 75 to 100 people a year are found dead in the Black Sea of Trees; so many, in fact, that officials stopped posting the body count in an effort to stem the site’s connection to self-murder.  Visitors to the Mount Fuji Five Lakes area are reminded about the beauty of the natural landscape and the other fascinating attractions of the area’s system of lakes and caves.  One is only shown the way – and very reluctantly – to Aokigahara Jukai if one asks, and locals know that the majority of the time those asking for directions to the Sea of Trees intend never to come out again.

A series of nature trails run along the thinner edge of the Aokigahara Jukai, leading visitors to the nearby Wind Cave and Ice Cave.  But a sign posted at the entry to the forest stands as a stark reminder of the forest’s link to death.  The sign says, in Japanese:  “Your life is a precious gift from your parents.  Think about them and the rest of your family.  You don’t have to suffer alone.  0550=22-0110 (Police Station).”  Even without a translation of the sign, a visitor can feel the palpable, melancholy darkness and the deep, pervasive sorrow drifting like a miasma from the tangled trees.  It is not the place for light sightseeing, nor for the curiosity seeker: once you pass under the canopy of Aokigahara Jukai, you have entered the realm of the dead.

Thanks to movies like “The Grudge” and “The Ring,” Westerners can claim some familiarity, albeit sensationalized, with the Japanese perspective on ghosts and hauntings.  The girl that climbs out of the well in “The Ring,” disheveled, with shredded, shroud-like clothing, face obscured by a mass of black hair is actually an image very much in keeping with Japanese folklore.  In Japan, such restless, remorseless, vengeful spirits have long been similarly depicted in art and literature.  The Japanese call these spirits the Yūrei, from “yū” (dim) and “rei” (soul) and describe them as ruined spirits deprived of a peaceful afterlife because at death they did not receive the proper funeral and burial rites.  Souls of suicides are particularly vulnerable to this condition because the manner of their death prevents the proper rites from being performed, but also because at the moment of death the spirit of a suicide is weighed down with the powerful emotions that plagued it in life.  The yūrei continues to exist as a revenant in the earthly sphere until the conflicts or emotions that keep it tied to the physical plane are resolved; if this never happens, the ghost will continue haunting indefinitely.

Yūrei are believed to haunt Aokigahara Jukai in large numbers and are most active between the hours of two and three a.m., the Japanese equivalent of the West’s “witching hour”; but they can be encountered at other times of the night, and even in the daytime.  The Japanese belief that these sorrowful, angry spirits pose a particular danger to living human beings is supported in occult tradition where such behavior is said to very often result in the obsession and possession of sensitive or susceptible individuals.  The invading spirits are believed to be capable of inducing negative emotions in the living, and of influencing the possessed to commit suicide in their turn. 

Visitors to Aokigahara Jukai invariably report feeling a pervading sense of misery and foreboding, a hopeless sadness that has been known to reduce even the most reticent to tears.  Forest rangers and groups of civilian volunteers whose unenviable job it is to go into Aokigahara Jukai and retrieve the corpses of suicide victims, have reported hearing moans, sobbing, wailing, and shrill, high-pitched screams breaking the unnatural silence in the forest glades.

Beyond the well-marked, official hiking trails are “unofficial” trails that lead off deep into Aokigahara Jukai; these were made by the rangers and local volunteers to facilitate corpse-gathering activities.  These secondary trails are roped off and are clearly marked by signs in Japanese and English warning, “Do Not Enter.”  Security cameras have been strategically placed near the paths not so much to discourage interlopers as to alert police when someone who looks as if he or she is about to commit suicide approaches the forest (although what the “suicide look” actually looks like remains a mystery).  Another sign warns, “No Camping,” because many times in the past people have gone into Aokigahara to camp out and mull over the decision – or build up the courage – to commit suicide.  These unofficial paths are also clearly marked with brightly colored tape so volunteers can more easily find their way in and out: because it is also a fact that many people who have gone into Aokigahara with no intentions of committing suicide have also died there simply because they got lost in the vast belly of this dark, ancient sea of trees.

Entering the enormous Aokigahara the atmosphere quickly changes.  Visitors who have returned have struggled to describe the feelings induced by the forest: fear, despair, darkness of the soul, agony, melancholy, abject misery – these are just some of the descriptions brought back.  The negative aura is palpable, and has been known to suppress even the most buoyant spirit; many reporting that thoughts of the brevity of life and overwhelming despair persisted long after their visit to Aokigahara was over.

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.
Tiptoeing through this forest of death one is inevitably going to stumble upon death sites, the last remaining traces of those who journeyed into Aokigahara but for whom there was no journey home – nor was there ever intended to be one.  For all intents and purposes these are grave sites, but very often all traces of a body have disappeared, removed by authorities or, more frequently consumed by nature.  Most unsettling is the discovery at these sites of the mundane trappings of life, forever anonymous, but speaking volumes about the person they once belonged to: empty backpacks, an umbrella, lipstick cases, batteries, a crushed cigarette pack, a “Hello Kitty” mirror; and, more ominously, shiny foil blister packs emptied of pills, extra rope matching another skein tied around a branch above, hypodermic needles.  Surveying such a scene, the last moments of that anonymous life spring suddenly to the empathetic mind; clearly the last deed is obvious, but what preceded it, what familiar rituals were performed for the last time before the pills were swallowed, the wrists split open, the noose tightened around the sweating neck . . . ?

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.

Maps of the Five Lakes area are available at the Kawaguchiko station where personnel will be very helpful until you mention Aokigahara Jukai.  There is a real fear among the locals about the place and they typically will try to warn visitors to keep away from it, but will usually respond to insistence by circling or designating the area on the map.  Don’t be surprised by the looks you get: people there are consciously looking for signs that a suicide might be imminent.   At the station you will need to purchase tickets for the bus to Lake Saiko (pronounced “psycho”) and the Lava Cave stop, which will drop you almost at the forest entance.

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