It lies silently and mournfully at the northwest base of Mt.Fuji. A forest so haunted and dreadful that many won’t go near it. Aokigahara, 35 square kilometers of forest with a dark and terrible past. A past that has continued to this day. The locals call it the "Jukai" or The Sea of Trees.
Throughout history the forest was known to be inhabited by entities called "yurei" or angry ghosts. There are many Japanese priests who feel that it is a place where malevolent energy has accumulated over the centuries.
Whatever it is that is troubling this place there is definitely a negative "presence" there. It isn’t just superstition.
In 1960, Japanese writer Seichō Matsumoto published Kuroi Jukai -- about a heartbroken lover that goes to Aokigahara forest to end her life. After the release of the book it was discovered that about 100 people a year enter the forest with the intent of suicide and are successful.
But even before the book was written the Jukai has been a place of tragedy.
The forest has a strange and troubled history. During the Edo period poor families would take the elderly that they could no longer care for and abandon them in the forest. The sick would decide to wander in and never come out. It is believed that the spirits of these people haunt the forest now. They have become the yurei, the angry ghosts.
There are signs posted at the beginning of the entrances to the forest trails. They are deterrents, pleadings with anyone who might have come for the purpose of ending their life. They beg the individual to please think of their families, their parents and children stating that there is always help available for any problem.
Suicide in the forest has become such a problem that volunteer teams have been formed. The teams meet annually and enter the forest to search for bodies which are often found. Sometimes however they are not found until a year or more later-- when there is nothing left but bones.
Evidence of suicide is everywhere in this place. Scattered throughout the forest are items that once belonged to the desperate people who entered and never left. Wallets, keys, articles of clothing, photographs and empty pill bottles are commonly found by members of the "body recovery" team.
The Complete Suicide Manual, a book written by Wataru Tsurumi, has been found several times near places where a suicide had occurred.
It is also common for those contemplating suicide to come with a ball of plastic twine which they tie around a stick or tree and unwind as they walk into this forsaken place in case they change their mind. Unfortunately it has been noted that most times "something is found at the end" of the twine trail by volunteers.
Police routinely note any vehicles that have been abandoned in the parking lot and quickly alert local forest rangers.
The forest is indeed an eerie place. There are walking trails that go through some parts of the Jukai. Walking groups are led by experts who are aware of the dangers, and posted signs sternly warn walkers not to wander off of the trails.
It is a forest like no other, a tangle of volcanic rock and strange tree formations, their gnarly roots curling and snaking over the rocky and uneven forest floor making it appear as if the trees were “alive” and walking.
The forest floor is also riddled with holes and caverns that lead deep into the dark underground. Many are covered up by vegetation and become a dangerous trap for those who are unaware.
Darkness comes quickly here as the forest is unbelievably dense. The thick canopy of trees almost totally blocks view of the sky and there is almost never any wind or sound. It is absolutely silent - any sound is swallowed up immediately.
Just a minute's walk into the Jukai from the parking lot, which sits on a busy mountain road and you will discover that you are unable to hear anything. You cannot hear the trucks rumble by or the roars of motorcycle groups. You hear nothing --only complete hair-raising silence.
Standing in this palpable silence and staring into the denseness you can almost feel the forest beckoning you to leave the trail and walk into it. Despite the eeriness it is strangely beautiful.
However, wandering off of the trail for just a bit is a very dangerous decision. Just a few steps and the trail disappears, it vanishes, blending into the landscape. Without any visual markers anyone can become lost very quickly.
According to forest rangers there is no wildlife that lives here except for a few birds. The animals avoid it.
There is another phenomenon at work: because of the iron deposits in the rocks, standard hiking compasses often fail -- and it’s not uncommon for cell phones to fail also.
The authorities do their best to deter and prevent suicides but every year they find those who were determined to end their lives.
If you decide to visit Aokigahara please heed the warnings and stay on the trail for your own safety and make sure you leave the forest before darkness… falls.