Japan’s Beautiful “Suicide Forest” Tries To Shake Its Dark Image


Yamanashi Prefecture’s Aokigahara forest covers some 30 square kilometers (12 square miles) and is so lush that it’s referred to in Japanese as a _jukai_, meaning “sea of trees.”
However, Aoikigahara has also long been considered “the perfect place to die”, it has the unfortunate distinction of the world’s second most popular place to take one’s life. (The first is the Golden Gate Bridge.)
Since the 1950s, Japanese businessmen have _w_andered in, and at least 500 of them haven’t wandered out. Death by hanging is the most popular.
The police have mounted suicide-prevention signs reading “Think carefully about your children, your family” and “Your life is a precious gift from your parents,” on trees throughout.
Camping is allowed in the area but visitors who bring a tent with them are believed to be undecided on their suicide attempt. People on prevention patrol will gently speak with such campers, entreating them to leave the forest.
The trees are tightly packed for winds to whip through. One visitor described the silence as “chasms of emptiness.” Rich with magnetic iron, the soil of the Suicide Forest plays havoc on cellphone service, GPS systems, and compasses.
Hikers will use string or duct tape to mark their path, but people also will leave ribbons leading to where they are so that others can notify their families. Following a ribbon trail may result in finding a person (or their body).
Spiritualists believe the mournful spirits of the suicidal linger in the woods, preventing wanderers from escaping.
In 2007, Fuji Kawaguchikomachi, one of the towns which contains part of Aokigahara, began a program to train nature guides for tours of the forest. In 2015, the town welcomed 17,000 Aokigahara visitors, and annually the number of tourists has stayed above 10,000 since, with a total of 30 guides ready to show them Aokigahara’s flora and fauna, which includes migratory birds such as the narcissus flycatcher.
Saiko Yacho no Mori Kouen, a bird sanctuary in Aokigahara, holds an annual nature walk event each summer, taking groups of 5 to 10 people along trails and out of the harsh heat of the Japanese summer. Approximately 350 people, including families with children and non-Yamanashi residents to take part.
Tourists can take in gorgeous views of Mount Fuji and visit the distinctive lava plateau, 300-year-old trees, and the enchanting Narusawa Ice Cave.


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