Have you heard of the Aokigahara 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 infamous due to the internet.Read for more about my experience hiking in this virgin forest and whether you should go.
TRIGGER WARNING- This article contains information about suicide which may be upsetting to some people.
I do not include triggering images in this post, only photos of the forest/trees. Images included this post are copyrighted and unauthorized usage will be pursued in court. Please do not twist my words into something that they aren’t.
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 take their own lives. However, this book is fiction and following a series of fictional horror movies about the very same forest, we’ve seen people sensationalizing a place that really exists.
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.
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. This forest 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 admire.
I found it to be an incredibly calm, beautiful, 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.
We followed the main path through the forest, which is paved and regular. However, depending on the entrance to the Forest, it might take a little time to find the main path. It’s best to be careful while hiking in this forest due to the bumpy landscape and the sometimes shallow roots that hide irregular rocks where your foot can fall through.
I admit that I had some doubts that we were going the right away after finding a map at the entrance as I felt like my sense of direction disappeared as soon as we were not on the trail that we thought that were on. After hiking for almost two hours, I was in awe of the nature of this forest as well as its unique landscape.
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 darker reasons. For hiking here, I made a decision: I will not go to the part of the park where the trails become covered in ribbon.
Luckily, there is a well-marked cement path that cuts directly through the forest. The forest is almost silent due to a low density of wildlife and few visitors. 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 taking their own lives 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. It’s important to note that many people struggle with suicidal thoughts, but depression is something that you can recover from. Seeking appropriate help is key and there’s a free suicide hotline in most countries that you can call if you want to discuss your own thoughts and/or you’re concerned about a friend/relative.
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. Luckily, there are people who are professionals happy to help.
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. This virgin forest is truly beautiful in terms of nature and I recommend that you enjoy it for its beautiful landscape, rather than its reputation.
Consider leaving kind stickers on the ribbon 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 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 and many people struggle with depression.
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 to the Aokigahara forest?
I don’t know. The Aokigahara Forest is 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 deaths. Similarly, more foot traffic might result in fewer lives lost 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.
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?
Read more about Japan!
Such an interesting place! The weird magnetic interference really adds to the whole thing. Such an insightful post, I really enjoyed reading thisit. You’re brave for going off trail! Thank goodness for your string!
Great post, Karen! I never heard of this forest before and it truly seems as an interesting, albeit weird, place to visit. The nature looks beautiful, but as you say, I´m not sure I would wander off the path along any strings. I don´t speak Japanese either and I think I´d have quite a trauma if I´d find a dead body!
Karen this was so interesting to read. As someone who has been touched by suicide, I think you wrote this piece in a responsible and sensitive way. I know not everyone will agree and I wasn’t sure what to expect with the piece but I actually think tourists going to the area could be a good thing, as long as it doesn’t increase the attraction for people. More footfall=more people to intervene and potentially save a life. You have really made me think with this piece.
Wow, I got chills reading this. I don’t think I would visit. .. it sounds eerie, and I’m easily frightened. It doesn’t sound scary to let your body decompose in the woods (sounds kind of natural or peaceful if anything, I suppose?) But I wouldn’t want to see it myself, or condone suicide… although living in SF, I have no qualms about visiting the Golden Gate Bridge and have never seen anything I didn’t want to see there. Something about an eerie forest, I guess!
This is fascinating post Karen.Very well written, its a sensitive subject. Love your photos too, the images show its a bit of a “freaky forest” especially after reading your story. Just wandering since I never walked a trail with a string: how does this work? Do you connect the string to a tree on the mail trial and then follow back?
Hi Maartje, Thank you. Yeah, it is a very strange and beautiful forest. Yeah, I had never done it before. You just tie it to a string and try not to drop the string: This way, the string weaves in/out of the trees (as shown). You can move a lot faster as you don’t need to knot the string and/or look for string on the nearby trees (especially if there’s other ribbons). Then, I just rolled it into a ball and walked back! It works pretty well. 🙂
Wow this is such an interesting story and somewhere that I never thought to visit! The details about the ribbons gave me chills but I’m glad that you suggested making it a positive trip by leaving uplifting messages for people that may be considering hurting themselves. Thanks for sharing!
Wow, goosebumps, speechless yet so many things to say. THANK YOU for writing this! It’s hard to say what action you would take until you’re there. I wholeheartedly agree with your statement about tourists making it more attractive to blame suicide on the forest. I will be flipping, pinning, sharing everywhere!
I have been interested in this forest since I heard about it in high school. I would definitely go there, but I wouldn’t go alone (I’m great with directions, but I don’t think that really applies here) and like you, I would bring string as a safety net.
It breaks my heart that people would bring elderly people there to die. That is just so sad.
People don’t just bring elderly to die there.. they also kill themselves.
Absolutely fascinating read wow! Such a great tip to not leave your ribbon behind so that others visiting the forest can potentially save someone. It reminds me a bit of Blarwitch Project though, not sure I will have the guts to go!
I loved this! I’ve always been so fascinated by this forest but truthfully didn’t know too much about actually visiting it. I can see why you’d want to though, it’s beautiful. I didn’t know it was so easy to get lost, actually and I definitely agree it’s wise to not follow the ribbons. Thanks so much for sharing your experience with it. I’m definitely intrigued to go.
Wow. Very interesting read. I dont know if i have the guts to visit this myself, what with all my over-acting imagination running. i love how you turned it into something really important and sensitive, though. Thank u for sharing!
This is a very interesting article! I first heard of Aokigahara when I saw the trailer for The Forest movie. It seems like a very eerie forest. I didn’t know about the ribbon trails until I read your post.
I wouldn’t visit this forest because I don’t want to stumble upon a dead body by accident.
Have you watched AbroadInJapan’s Aokigahara video on Youtube? You might find it interesting too.
Wow that is a really interesting place and your post is so thought provoking. I would want to help people but I wouldn’t want to see a dead body. Your pictures are great though, the forest does look beautiful.
Omg, this forest sounds really scary. I had no idea that ribbons led to a dead body. Crazy. You are brave for going. I really just thought it was something hollywood made up. Thank you for the share!!!
This was very interesting, and good on you not to play it up for sensationalism.
On a lighter note it reminded me of an act by a Malaysian standup comedian comparing western and eastern approaches to potentially haunted places (a la horror movies) where the easterner would sensibly just walk away and *not* do stuff like enter (or buy!) the haunted house! 🙂 and then there won’t be a movie.
What an interesting read – I had no idea this forrest existed. It sounds truly creepy but also fascinating. Also love that you’re using your blogpost to mention depression and raising awareness of the help people can receive 🙂 xx
What a weird experience! I never heard of this forest and I don’t think I’d like to go. It sounds quite creepy and challenging!
Although I have to say, this forest looks gorgeous!
ARIANA DEL RIO
THANKS FOR SHARING, BUT PERSONALLY I DON’T THINK IT’S WORTH IT TO GO AS YOU YOURSELF SAID, YOU ARE FURTHER PERPETUATING THE MYTH OF THIS DARK AND HAUNTED PLACE THAT SHOULD BE AWED AT.
AS AN OUTSIDER IN JAPAN, IT SEEMS EVEN MORE DISTURBING THAT YOU GO AND VISIT AS A TOURIST SOMEPLACE WITH A REAL HISTORY OF SUICIDE (#2 IN THE WORLD AS YOU SAY) AND THEN GIVE ADVICE ON HERE ABOUT HOW TO PREVENT SUICIDE.
Gosh I didn’t know anything about this. It’s so eerie that such a unique forest has such a sad story attached to it. I would definitely visit though!
Oh, wow. I think you managed very well to write about this sensitive topic, in an informative way.
I had never heard about this forest. I like nature and forests and, as a forest, it looks beautiful and it sounds like it has a special atmosphere.
But the forest being a place where people go to commit suicide… I don’t think I could visit it. It is a good idea to use the strings though, and to take them back.
I learned about this place not so long ago from the National Geographic. It was very interesting to read about your experience, too. Thank you for this post.
Wow what a powerful article, sounds like such an interesting place to visit albeit I wouldn’t want to go alone. I think it was good how you also gave a few tips, you never know who might come across your article so I think it’s very responsible that you also offer support too, very thoughtful. PS the string would actually be a good idea for quite a few hikes in random places!
Yikes, the silence and magnetic disturbance would be enough to put me off even if I didn’t know about the reputation of the place. Your post truly gave me chills. If you could turn back time would you go again?
I would. Maybe, we’d carry a bit more string, but it was a beautiful forest that I’m glad that we visited. I think it’s important to destigmatize this forest in particular.
Such a well written article on a difficult and sensitive topic. The forest looks like it is straight out of an old Japanese legend so I can understand why its considered ‘Haunted’.
I have read a few pieces about the forest. But none of people who have actually been there. It sounds like you were very responsible in exploring and taking care. You also conveyed your experience the same way. As much as I also love the macabre, I hope the forest morphs with a new identity that appreciates it beauty, instead of its dark history.
Dark, twisted and sad, this Suicide Forest in Japan. You were brave to visit. I think I would have freaked! I wonder how many people don’t know about the string idea and just get lost (that would be me!) Thank you for writing this insightful post and adding the thoughtful hotline links at the end.
I would be scare to death to follow any ribbon! Glad that you did not.. Even with 2-3 people around, to visit that place it looks pretty scary to me.. brbrbbr. Goosebumps!
This is a very – very – well written article. It is a very delicate subject and you have managed to be insightful as well as respectful. Great article 🙂
What an incredible post, thank you Karen. Just reading it gave me chills, no idea how you managed to hike through it, especially off-trail.
I had heard of this place some years ago on TV and forgotten all about it until now. Incredible this place really exists…
An interesting and moving read. While I agree that following a ribbon and turning suicide into a spectacle, I don’t think that one needs to feel responsible to prevent a suicide. For some it is surely ‘just’ a cry for help but for others… I think people need to have the option on choosing to end their life if they desire to do so. Other times there might be no one to live for or to catch them when they fall. Ultimately dying there, surrounded by green nature seems like a better way to go than many others.
What an interesting read. It is a hard subject to write about but you have done it so well. It is the type of place I would love to go to due to the natural beauty of it. However I really wouldn’t want to come across a body. However if I thought I could prevent a suicide then perhaps I would be tempted but realistically as you said I am not trained and I certainly do not speak Japanese.
Thank you for sharing your experience
A place of atmosphere and beauty from your respectfull description.A place where life and death meet with the calmness for those to decide their own fate.Stunning yet sad and real a place where you debate your own morals and face your fears.Fascinating.
You wrote this piece so well, Karen, considering so many perspectives and being very sensitive about it. I’m curious, did you ever worry finding your string being cut off halfway when you were backtracking? Also, did you see any other hiker/visitor in the forest?
About seeing something I do not want to see, noooo, I will not wanna see anything because I tend to encounter things of the supernatural from time to time, so no thanks. Neither do I wanna see a dead body or decomposing one, omg. You’re very brave! I will never have the guts to visit this forest.
Hi Kristine, Thanks for reading and your kind comments! I was not worried about anyone cutting my string at all. We saw some people close to the beginning/end, including an older Japanese man who was hiking (with a topographical map) near the beginning. He didn’t speak much english, but encouraged us to take a photo of it. It was kind of helpful actually although we still got a bit lost. Towards the end, we saw 2 adults and a group of schoolkids taking what seemed to be a nature tour of the forest with a guide. Not as spooky as you might expect in some ways.
The forest itself is absolutely beautiful and it would be great if people were less afraid to visit. I think visiting for a hike is the best way to destigmatize it. : )
She stated it was during times of famine.
Thank you so much for writing this! As others have said, you’ve handled this topic respectfully, and as someone interested in checking out this forest for its own sake I deeply appreciate the advice on how to avoid the suicide element of it. Do you feel that a person could still get a good sense of the uniqueness and beauty of this forest by staying on the main path?
Hi Holly, Thanks for commenting. I do believe that you can easily do so by enjoying the historic ice caves as well as staying on the main path. You can also try to do an organized hike, which should focus more on the nature.
Hope this helps!
This article is so beautifully written and is helping me a lot with my decision to visit the forest to do the hike. I really enjoyed the honesty of it and I think you handled the delicate nature of the topic really well. Just one tiny note but there is a reference in your article to “committing suicide”. I am a journalist and it our sensitivity training we are taught not to use this phrase as it implies the person is committing a crime, something which can have a negative connotations for survivors and relatives of people who have taken their own lives. Please don’t take this as a criticism – in fact the only reason I am pointing this out is because everything in your article is so thoughtful and considerate that I wanted to help add to that.
I’m really torn about visiting this place but your article will definitely help me a lot in deciding what to do.
Thank you for reading this article and your thoughtful comment. I will change the wording as I legitimately do want this article to be as sensitive as possible. I hope that you come to the right decision for you, but it is truly a beautiful place that I don’t believe deserves this terrible reputation.
My wife and I visited the forest in early March, 2020, and I was fully aware of the grim reputation it had. I had noted to my wife that the forest was known by other names, which I mentioned, but maintained my reference to it as the Sea of Trees – which has far more beautiful connotations than other oft-used references. We entered the forest from the Narusawa Ice Cave and stuck to the main path, determined not to stray too far from it in order to avoid any grisly scenes. In the end we found the forest to be beautiful, engaging, magical even. The silence was profound but far from scary. I felt more connected to nature there than anything else. Sure, it’s gnarly and quiet, which may evoke fear in some, but it is a really stunning patch of forest near the awesome Mount Fuji. The paths we took were very clearly demarcated and accessible, so a roll of string wasn’t really necessary for us for the few hours we were walking, but for the more intrepid hiker I reckon that’s a good suggestion. We left the forest in the afternoon, returning along the path from whence we came, feeling invigorated, energised and imbued with a sense of awe and respect for the beauty of the natural world. Personally, I do not believe it is an evil place – I believe that side of it is foisted upon it by the macabre mindset of man. From what I understand, that aspect originated from events depicted in a work of Japanese fiction from the late 1960s. I echo your sentiments that it’s a wonderful place to visit.
Thank you for this wonderful article. Tremendous read!