Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Aokigahara Forest, The Sea of Trees

AOKIGAHARA forest is assuredly one of the scariest places on the Earth. It sprawls vastly from the northwest base of Mount Fiji in the magical but troubled land of Japan. I haven't been able to nail down exactly why but, curiously indeed, the forest in known for having a very minimal wildlife population. Apparently one almost never hears birdsong even. That fact, coupled with the wind-blocking density of the trees, makes this place quiet, quiet, quiet all of the time. Growing from a magma base, spewed from Fiji herself God knows how long ago, the woods have had a difficult time with the hard and rocky ground. This has led them to sprawl their roots out everywhere, making foot traffic nearly impossible in some areas. Underneath this thick, choking growth above, the ground is home also to many caves below, some of them with ice year round. Tourists visit a few of these caves but most of them are unexplored and surely there are many that are undiscovered all together.
The history of Aokigahara Jukai is grim enough. The place has historically been associated with demons or Yurei (Japanese ghosts) for hundreds of years now. In times past it was a regularly used locale for the notorious act of Ubasute which means to leave a dependent to die. Apparently, among the impoverished, those that could not feed or help themselves were often brought to the forest and left there, presumably starving to death and if so, undoubtedly filling some of the silence of the forest. Legends and myths about this place abound, including one that says there are huge iron deposits in the ground which will make your compass go haywire and facilitate losing one's way. One thing we do know for a fact though is that many, many people have died in this place. Aokigahara forest is an inexplicable suicide vortex. That's right. It's one of the world's most popular suicide destinations, second only to the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco (a decidedly less terrifying place) Approximately thirty bodies were found in the forest annually for some time, spiking then to seventy three in 1998, then to seventy eight in 2002 and a little over a hundred the year after that. Since then the Japanese government has been withholding the statistics from the public in a desperate avoidance of fueling the forest's reputation. Like on the Golden Gate, there are many signs posted here and there urging people to reconsider their actions, written both in Japanese and English. There are forestry divisions at work here but even they tend to avoid lengthy travel. When they do find bodies they are often well into the state of decay. Because of this light travel, even by caretakers, there is said to be a peculiarly disquieting variety of litter in these woods. If you were to visit Aokigahara you would likely find skulls, some long lines of colored tape, used to find one's way back from a trek and then discarded, many many bouquets of flowers left by the bereaved, various left behind suicide tools both recent and ancient. And yes, if you take a long enough, deep enough, brave enough walk you will probably encounter a hanging body. Or two.

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