Bebe Taian: The Mystery of Aokigahara

April 12, 2012

The Mystery of Aokigahara

TW for suicide-related subject matter.

 Aokigahara, the mysterious forest where many go to die by suicide. It is a place near Fujisan, what Americans know as Mt. Fuji.

There is little mystery, overall, as to why someone would commit suicide, I think. It all depends on the person. Everyone has their reasons, and frankly, it doesn't matter if we think those reasons are valid or not. Some are just achingly lonely, and want things to stop- not necessarily to die, but to 'not be'. Some are likely terminally ill, or were diagnosed with a terrible disease and didn't want to live that way. Some might be heartbroken, or angry, or not valued. Everyone has their reason.

The question is- why Aokigahara? What is it about that place that draws so many? 100 or so people a year venture there and do not leave. Some others show up, 'camp', and then change their minds (at least, for a time, perhaps). Aokigahara is the second-most popular place to commit suicide today, next to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California.

The forest is known for being strangely quiet. There is little wildlife present in the thick woods and icy caverns. Even though some parts are tourist spots, Aokigahara is known for being the residence of demons, and was once a spot for a distant and rare practice known as 'ubasute', where an elderly or infirm relative was left there to die of exposure or starvation, especially in times of famine. Supposedly, the ghosts of the abandoned deceased still live there. Those who were not properly buried and cared for cannot rest, and will wander forever. Still, perhaps more recent popularity has been given to the spot because of the 1960s' novel "Nami no Tou" (Tower of Waves), by Matsumoto Seichou, where a pair of lovers commit suicide together.

It seems that the subject of Aokigahara comes up every year around this time. Around March seems to be the most prevalent month for these kinds of decisions. The government has posted signs in Japanese and English urging people to make a different decision, but it has yielded few results. I think one reason might be that the signs aren't "real", the way talking to a living human is. In the internet age, where 14 hour workdays are now common, it is not easy to feel connected to real people. It's easy to feel that you have no true value or merit, or that your ideas and opinions go nowhere.

The article below has some images of remains. If you are sensitive to this, please don't view it.

In this documentary, one man seeks to understand more about why Aokigahara is such a place, and makes it a habit to check in on those alive that he meets in that forest. It is an admirable task; not many can make the physical requirements of the constant hiking and travel on foot, in any weather. Even fewer have the mental and emotional fortitude to deal with death in such a collected, calm manner.

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