Have you heard of the Aokigahara Suicide Forest? The Aokigahara Forest in Japan (Japanese: 青木ヶ原) (known as the Sea of Trees in Japanese 樹海) is the country’s most infamous forest. The Junkai forest is considered to be the second most popular suicide spot in the world and it is a popular spot for dark tourism as it is considered the world’s most haunted forest. Read for more about my experience hiking in this virgin forest and whether you should go. *TRIGGER WARNING.*
The Aokigahara Forest has long been considered a haunted place due to stories about earthbound spirits known as (yūrei) who perish with a deep sadness or anger in the forest as well as the legends of people leaving seniors in isolated places, including these woods, to die during times of famine. Its reputation grew following the Japanese fiction book about a couple that goes there to commit suicide. Now, there's an American horror movie called “The Forest” about it. The movie “The Forest” is not based on a true story; it’s just a Hollywood interpretation of the stories about the Aokigahara Forest. However, the Aokigahara forest is a real place.
Note: My partner and I independently read about this forest years ago. No, we did not go to the most infamous part of the forest and we find the actions of those who choose to sensationalize the tragic nature of the Aokigahara forest without regard for human life repugnant. Your life matters and please seek help for depression if you are grappling with it. Click for Global Suicide Prevention Hotlines.
However, the Sea of Trees is an incredibly beautiful forest next to Mount Fuji. It is a virgin forest and it is green year-round, a rarity among forests in Japan. It grew on top of the lava on one side of Mount Fuji, so the lush misshapen trees with strange roots surrounding/covering up holes in the lava make it fascinating to visit. I found it to be an incredibly calm, beautiful, interesting, and stunning landscape unlike any forest that I've ever seen before. It is called the Sea of Trees due to the heavy canopy that blocks out a lot of sunlight. I've actually been in forests with less light, but it can get quite dark depending on the section.
I hiked with my partner with the aid of a lot of string, which is necessary due to the very bumpy landscape and the sometimes shallow roots that hide irregular rocks where your foot can fall through. It is nearly impossible to find your way back after your sense of direction disappears ten feet off-trail. After hiking for almost two hours, I was in awe of the nature of this forest as well as its unique landscape. I should mention that hiking off-trail increases your likelihood of seeing something you don't want to see and I do not recommend it.
Is the Aokigahara Forest haunted?
As tourists, it's easy to seek out the exotic or haunted when traveling; however, this forest's reputation lies in the sheer fact that people come here to die. For hiking here, I made a decision: I will not go to the part of the park where the trails become covered in ribbon.
Due to magnetic interference, your cell phone GPS may not work, and often, compasses do not work. Luckily, there is a well-marked path that will lead you out of the forest. Those who want to do off-trail hiking in the Aokigahara Forest need to memorize the maps near the entrance if they do not have their own. Even then, you will get very lost without the aid of a topological elevation map. The forest is almost silent due to a low density of wildlife and few visitors. As a result, it is a creepy forest to walk in, even with another person. It can be unnerving to hear the leaves crunch and the branches crack. It is easy to see how these legends of yurei continue to exist, but it’s not haunted. It's a forest and most forests have twigs that rustle in the wind.
Why are the trails covered in ribbons? Often those who are considering suicide will use string or duct tape to mark their path so that they can find their way out of the forest. Alternatively, people will leave ribbons leading to where they are so that others can bury their bodies and notify their families. Following a ribbon trail may result in finding a person considering suicide (or their body). Personally, I will not partake in observing human misery and doing nothing to help.
Do not follow ribbon(s) that you see.
At one point when we were hiking, I found a cell phone thrown down on the ground with the battery removed and a trail of ribbons trailing off in the distance in the direction we were going. We had already decided to avoid the most infamous part of the forest, but we weren’t ready for the possibility of stumbling upon someone. I debated many things: Should we try to help and are we qualified to help? I wasn’t honestly sure, and the ribbons seemed to increase in quantity as we hiked. As we walked longer, I noticed the quality of the ribbon deteriorated. Had we been too late? How many others had stumbled upon these ribbons before us and how many had followed them? I will never know the answer as we chose not to follow the path as we don’t speak Japanese and we are untrained in suicide prevention.
If you're thinking about visiting the Sea of Trees as a tourist, I urge you to think carefully about your goals for this hike. Enjoy this forest for the beautiful landscape that it is and leave kind stickers/notes with anti-suicide messages (Your life matters in Japanese: あなたの人生は大切。) encouraging depressed people to turn back. We might be tourists, but we can make the world a better place, and it starts with a simple step: being aware of ourselves and the impact of our actions, especially when traveling.
By continuing to make Aokigahara infamous by playing up its lore/haunted nature, we make it more attractive for those who are depressed to blame their suicides on the forest.
If you’re going through hell, keep going. — Winston Churchill
If you're someone reading who is depressed, the Aokigahara forest is not the answer to your problems. If you’re having suicidal thoughts, please remember that your life is precious and call the following numbers to talk to someone OR seek professional help: Japanese Suicide Prevention Numbers & Global Suicide Prevention Hotlines.
Should you go?
I don't know. It's a truly one of the most fascinating and beautiful forests that I've been in. The forest is quiet, peaceful, lush, and generally without people. It is close to Mount Fuji, so it is a nice hike if you're already visiting Mount Fuji or the ice caves. The more people who go there, the less stigmatized it will be as many people still believe the forest to be haunted/the reason for these suicides. Similarly, more foot traffic might result in fewer suicides in this beautiful forest. It's a personal call, but I would say it's a humbling place to be in and it's a truly beautiful virgin forest in its own right.
Getting there: Aokigahara Forest
If you’re still interested in visiting the Aokigahara Forest, it is quite isolated and time-consuming (4 hours) by public transit from Tokyo. We took about three trains (including the beautiful Fujikyu Railway train) to Kawaguchiko train station before taking the retro touristic circle bus. Nearby, there is a tourist attraction called the Narusawa Ice Caves where you can descend underground into a lava cave that has ice year-round. It was used in feudal times to store silkworm eggs, and it’s a nice break from the sweltering humidity of Japan in the summertime. The ice caves are a nice day trip from Mount Fuji with a fascinating history.
The Aokigahara forest entrance is close to the Lake Sai Bat Cave. You need to go to the parking lot, and you will see a nondescript sign in Japanese reminding people of the value of their life. From there, there is a marked path that is smooth and paved leading out to the other side. If you go off the trail, you are going off the trail at your own risk.
If you chose to hike in this beautiful forest off-trail, bring A LOT of string, something to cut it with, and a topological map (thank you random Japanese hiker). We ran out of ribbon as it was getting dark and we had to backtrack to leave the forest before darkness. Some people had cut and knotted string around individual trees, which would make your string last longer. I found it was easier to tie the string around a tree before walking with the string loosely in my hand, so I could follow the exact path of the string back to the starting point. (If you go, please take your ribbon/string with you when you leave as you don’t want someone following your path when they could help someone else in need. Also, please don't litter!
Would you visit the Aokigahara Forest?
If you'll be visiting Japan, read tips for visiting Japan on a budget.
Karen & Jacob. American expats and cat lovers from New York City and Kentucky who lived in Amsterdam.... Then, Paris. (Confusing, we know!) Now, we're living in The Hague, the Netherlands.
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