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 commit suicide. 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?
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 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. 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 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 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.
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 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.
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!