Japan's "Suicide forest"

From VICE:
The Aokigahara Forest is the most popular site for suicides in Japan. After the novel Kuroi Jukai [The Black Forest, written by Seichō Matsumoto in 1960] was published, in which a young lover commits suicide in the forest, people started taking their own lives there at a rate of 50 to 100 deaths a year. The site holds so many bodies that the Yakuza pays homeless people to sneak into the forest and rob the corpses. The authorities sweep for bodies only on an annual basis, as the forest sits at the base of Mt. Fuji and is too dense to patrol more frequently.
Aokigahara suicide forest


  1. I made it halfway through and it got TOO SCARY. How crazy – the guy with the straight dope about the suicide forest: a geologist!

  2. Awesome, I was just reading about this a couple of weeks ago as I went through the A’s in my massive alphabetized list of wikipedia creepypasta. (http://pastebin.com/9L2L87Vi if anyone’s interested, heh)

    Can’t decide whether I really want to see it in living color, but I feel compelled to click the play button…

  3. Very interesting watch, I loved the spooky atmosphere the slow music adds.

    Might have just been me but the video messed up in quite a few spots with some major artifacts.

  4. Plus it’s an illegal dumping ground for massive amounts of household and industrial waste. Such a shame lovely forested area as well as great hiking.

  5. This is why we San Franciscans put our most popular suicide site over a strong ocean current that conveniently carries most bodies out into the Pacific.

  6. I’ve heard many stories in Japan about this place. I’ve been in the vicinity of it, but never in it.

    That was surreal. It was mysterious, sad, and beautiful all at once. What a terrible job, to find corpses in a dark, primeval forest. All I can think is that if only that person had known, the skeleton, that people all over the world would someday see what happened to them, and feel sadness for them. Their remains are a message to everyone who sees this, that suicide can be prevented often simply by talking to people. I hope they can identify them, and their family finds peace.

    I understand why these people went to the forest to die. I think I would return to nature to die if it were me too, but I can’t help but think how many people could just be helped if someone just talked to them.

    Watching this was like being in a sad dream world somewhere else.

    1. It strikes me as ironic that such a compassionate comment comes from someone whose screen name is “Bastard” Namban.

      (I don’t know if you could find that offensive, but I didn’t mean it to be.)

  7. It’s interesting that the Wikipedia entry says that there are signs in Japanese *and* English urging potential suicides to reconsider. The idea that they have the signs also in English brings up the disturbing possibility that there exists a suicide tourism industry…

    1. @ J. Badger: Not necessarily. English is frequently a lingua franca (heh) between two people who don’t speak each other’s language.

      1. Yeah, but presumably the signs are for *somebody* who doesn’t know Japanese. If they’re for say, Bulgarians using English to travel to Japan to end it all, it still is pretty disturbing.

  8. That was amazing. This is the quality of posts for which I used to frequent BoingBoing. I hope to see more amazing (albeit disturbing) posts like this again.

  9. why would one commit suicide with valuables upon them?

    @#4 – that would make the yakuza angry, and you’d likely want to avoid that.

  10. That was a very moving video.

    I was especially saddened when the skeleton was found, still clothed, and still wearing barely worn hiking boots. Boots mostly likely purchased for a one way trip into that forest.

  11. I did a photoshoot there last year and it was pretty creepy I have to say. Didn’t uncover any remains, but we had a butoh dancer with us painted up in white which nearly gave heart attacks to several passers by.

    1. watching the film, butoh came to mind. that stark contrast of the lush green forest and the iconic butoh form must have been stunning & compelling to shoot. love to see the fruits of your labor.

  12. Wow, what a creepy place! Excellent video. Insightful, interesting and informative. And creepy. My god.

  13. I found it more sad than creepy.

    Somebody hiked all the way into what appeared to be the depths of this super-dense forest, one containing multiple dead bodies, yakuza-affiliated grave robbers, and toxic waste, all to place a nice little bouquet of flowers, a manga comic, and a box of chocolates at somebody’s death site.

    Someone must have really loved the guy. Shame he didn’t know it.

    I like how the geologist goes around chatting with folk, trying to talk them out of topping themselves without getting all preachy or annoying about it. That’s something that all too often gets fucked up by people who insist on bringing religion into it.

    Speaking of which, I want to know more about mysterious Buddhist monk that lives in the center of the suicide forest. That sounds like some serious left-hand-path shit.

  14. Best part of the movie was at the very end when they explained that yellow-tent-guy made it out ok. I was worried for him.

  15. More than the very-real suicide popularity, I love the stories about compasses supposedly not working in there, JSDF soldiers getting lost on training exercises, and mysterious voices that beckon walkers deeper into the woods. Even though I don’t believe in the supernatural at all. I think.

    And then the cynical side of me wondered if that guy knew exactly where to find that skeleton, and would ‘find’ it again the next time he showed someone through.

  16. My friend Shan Serafin just premiered his supernatural thriller about this place at the Bel Air Film Festival. Check out the trailer! It’s called The Forest.

  17. I once drove across America in three days with my friend Koji. Last year, they found him in this forest. Love you, man.

  18. Wow. That was so interesting to me. It’s a Lovely Forest of Death. . .

    Our Geologist guide is a very interesting fellow. From vulcanologist to suicide detective: I like him.

    When he was talking to the guy in the tent, I sorta wished he would have sat down and been like “are you OK?!? Want to talk about it??. . . etc etc”. But that’s not his personality at all: why be an in-the-field rock-studier in the first place. . .(it’s also my cultural bias: we are touchy-feely sensitive types where I come from. . .)

    Their culture is different. “Buck up. Do what you supposed to. Don’t inconvenience others. Be a man. Move your tent. Have a nice day.”

    Dont get me wrong: this wandering fellow has his heart in 100% the right place. And Nihon Bunka has been a love of mine for decades. (2 decades to be exact. . .) so I understand.

    But out guide said it best: that there is an inability of some people to thrive within the culture: those are the people I most sympathize with. Sickness. Poverty (or the perception thereof). Love troubles. . .those I get. Sometimes it feels like: It Is Time To Die. But as somebody smart once said: it is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

    But the Forest: how sad. Such Pathos. . . and not a little creepy. . .

    I wonder: he says the tape streamers were like unto H&G with the breadcrumbs. . .I wonder if it might sometimes be: -yup. I gotta die. But please find my body so I don’t end up like the skeleton with his maroon keds still on- His toyota key ‘got’ me: I just bought one. . .

    Also touching were the remembrances left for the dead: but one has to wonder: did they show him love and kindness while he was alive? Or did they bicker and sigh, abuse and ignore. . .

    Harder to show the love to people that often irritate, embarrass, nag, impose, disappoint and infuriate us. . .nonetheless: those are often the people that love us too.

    Sure there may be plenty of time in the afterlife to tell folks we love ’em:

    But this here ain’t. None of it. No-how. permanent. Better get to it.

    1. Buck up. Do what you supposed to. Don’t inconvenience others. Be a man. Move your tent. Have a nice day.

      Yep; a similar approach is taken by Chen Si, who patrols the 6.7km-long Yangtze River Bridge in Nanjing, China in his spare time to find and stop jumpers. This American Life featured him in episode #407. Judging by the episode, anyone he finds gets a severe dressing down. Mr Chen’s blog (in Chinese) is here.

      Japan has the highest suicide rate of any OECD country; globally, only the suicide-plagued former Soviet countries, Sri Lanka and Guyana suffer a greater incidence. In Japan, suicide rates have risen significantly over the past 20 years, driven almost entirely by a rise in male suicides.

      The much-debated recent book The Spirit Level offers some interesting points on the topic: Japanese incomes are relatively equal, and as a result (the authors argue), Japan has low levels of homicide, mental illness, drug addiction, and other social problems. So why the high rate of suicide? (Homicide is often inversely correlated with suicide).

      It is possible that a culture of social responsibility is important in explaining both Japanese income equality (which is not due to government redistribution) and the prevalence of suicide: perhaps in Japan, it has resulted in a society where success is not measured by how many multiples of a janitor’s salary a CEO earns, and where violence against others is unthinkable to many; yet conversely, violence against oneself for ‘failing’ in some way is acceptable.

      1. You said it yourself, suicide rates rose sharply in Japan during the past 20 years; actually, it’s more like during the past 10 years that the bulk of increases happened, before, the suicide rates were stable (and lower than France’s) since the post-war period.

        Like I said, until the suicide rate in Japan began climbing 10 years go from 20-25k deaths to 30k per year now, Japan’s suicide rate was actually -below- France’s! (France’s suicide rate is about 15k deaths per year, so Japan is beating France by a small margin) a country where supposedly everyone is happy with plentiful vacations, and short working hours! How many people know that? Japan has an unfairly had a reputation of being a suicidal country even before it overtook France’s rate.

        Very obviously, the reason why Western media harped on about suicide in Japan, and not in France must be linked to the Japanese bashing that was very vigorous during the 80’s, when everyone though Japan would take America’s place as the richest country.

        And this is very interesting:”
        The Complete Manual of Suicide (完全自殺マニュアル, Kanzen Jisatsu Manyuaru, lit. Complete Suicide Manual?) is a Japanese book written by Wataru Tsurumi. It was first published on July 4, 1993 and sold more than one million copies. This 198 page book provides explicit descriptions and analysis on a wide range of suicide methods such as overdosing, hanging, jumping, and carbon monoxide poisoning.

        Public reaction

        Because the Japanese criminal code censors only graphical depictions of the sexual organs, this book was not censored by the government. Some prefectures designated the book as yugaitosho (book harmful to youth), which restricts the sale of books to minors, while some prefectures, such as Tokyo, decided against doing so. There are many suicides where the book was found along with the body, including several cases of the suicides of junior high school students. The book neither encourages nor discourages suicide, and as well does not tell those considering suicide to seek help, though wordings such as “completely painless” and “marvelous experience” are used to indicate that certain methods are less painful and more fatal than others. Moreover, the book shows that certain popular methods of suicide have very low success rates. For this reason, some argue that the book has made suicide attempts since its publication more fatal. Some attribute Japan’s high suicide rate not just to the number of people who attempt suicide but also to the fact that people utilise more fatal methods,[1] though to what extent the book has contributed to this trend is unknown.”

        Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Complete_Manual_of_Suicide

    2. @ gwailo_jo

      We shouldn’t be too quick to blame friends and family. People who are contemplating suicide are very good at hiding it. I’ve known two people who have attempted suicide (one successfully) and both times I was completely blindsided. After speaking to others I learned that no one had any idea that suicide was even a remote possibility.
      One was a coworker who came in on his day off and spoke to many people around the workplace. It was later that I realized that he was saying his ‘goodbyes’ to everyone. I felt guilty because I was busy and didn’t even give him my full attention. The survivors are already prone to blame themselves and wonder ‘What if I did something differently…’

  19. They should get the Boy Scouts out there every other weekend to pick up all that trash – what a dump of a forest.

  20. Reminds me of the Mike Mills film about anti-depression medicine in Japan:

    Does your soul have a cold?

    1. Somebody had to say it. . .good one. If I could speak Japanese well enough to placate forest rangers and well-meaning geologists I would consider it an honor and a pleasure to go to that forest. alone. at night. amidst the faceless crucified effigies and arcane sigils of despair. And host a merry BBQ with incense for the troubled dead and grilled meats for the suicidal living!

      But perhaps it is wiser if I give respect from afar. . .

  21. Due to the still image of the skull being the placeholder for the video, I was expecting a lot more grotesque and sensationalist finds out there in the woods.

    I went to Tokyo in 2008 and the Mount Fuji portion of the tour was one of the more eerie and isolated jaunts we took. I’m not spooked at all by bodies though, so I am frankly sort of displeased that our guide did not mention this at all even though we drove right through the forest.

    Hard Gay did an episode on this too, though it was a lot more light-hearted. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6crt0q6yW0k

  22. If it’s considered normal to find bodies there and the authorities only do an annual sweep, surely I’m not the only one to think that some of them probably didn’t really commit suicide?

  23. Yeah, I agree with aeon.

    If the Yakuza can send in homeless people to grave rob, they can also dump the bodies of their own victims there, and no one would know the body wasn’t a suicide. Sounds like a good location to dump bodies.

  24. This reminds me of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novel, ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.’ James Bond’s nemesis Blofeld is operating a suicide island park, and the Japanese gov’t offers the Brits their latest advanced decryption technology – called MAGIC, of course ;-) – in exchange for Bond’s elimination of Blofeld and the suicide park. But that was just a novel – this is for real!!! And no one’s getting rich off it but the Japanese mob! As always, truth beats fiction.

  25. Our Geologist guide is a very interesting fellow. From vulcanologist to suicide detective: I like him.

    Yeah the film turned from good to amazing thanks to him. Such a find.

  26. “And it can’t be much fun for them
    beneath the rising sun
    with all their kids committing suicide.”
    Pink Floyd — Post War Dream

  27. The track used at the very end, before the closing credits, is “A Painting/Life in D” by Growing.

    The same track was used in the opening of the 2005 short “The Big Empty” which is why as soon as I heard that track, it drove me crazy and I had to spend 40 minutes figuring out what it is.

  28. Mr. Hayano absolutely makes this video. His observations, calmness, gentleness and respect are key.

    At first, I thought he was a somewhat passive observer of human nature and the forest. But his conversations with the man in the tent showed a different side. He smiled, he laughed, he talked, and he listened.

    His reaction on finding the skeleton also telegraphed his underlying feelings in a powerful way. He was saddened by what he found. It was not a statistic, but the remains of a human being.

  29. This is precisely why I read BoingBoing.

    That forest is quite beautiful in its own way, but wow is that ever sad.

  30. Incredible and moving film, but I wish it had explained Hayano’s role as a park ranger early on (hint to aspiring documentary film makers). When he said he has found more than 100 corpses, I was thinking “What, just from doing field work in the forest?”. It changed the context of the film for me halfway through to learn that he is actually more than a random good-natured citizen.

  31. I can’t believe no one has mentioned Haruki Murakami, whose writings often draw strongly on this forest and its mythos.

  32. He’s wrong about the ribbon. It’s left by the locals who do searches. Or, it used to be. They stopped using the ribbons years ago.

  33. I actually appreciate the way that he was talking to the man in the tent, giving the man the space he needed to make the right decision for him. If someone wants to commit suicide I firmly believe that is their business, your life is the only true possession you have in this world and it is yours to do as you will. His presence was respectful, kind and receptive, and probably reminded the man that there are nice and caring people in this world. He let the man know that he was worried for him and he wanted him to be okay, but didn’t push it (which would probably trigger a defensive and emotional reaction that would make the person more likely to act on their suicidal ideations).

    I thought it was beautiful, and that our host’s perspective on the whole thing was very compelling, heartfelt and sympathetic. There is beauty here, as an aside to the sadness.

  34. I just recently talked to an acquaintance whose 20 year old daughter committed suicide
    and being a parent of two young daughters it made me think and hug them when I got home.

    In the early 1970s researchers in England noticed a significant drop in suicides. It turns out the reason was that the due to recent North Sea oil and gas discovery, most homes switched from coke gas to natural gas for cooking, and prior to that turning on the gas in the oven and putting your head in was a common method of suicide. Suddenly less people committed suicide because it was more difficult to do so. For this reason prescriptions of certain medications are given out in amounts insufficient for overdosing, and barriers and nets are being added to bridges including the Golden Gate.

    another thing I was reminded of when I lived in Tokyo 20years ago was the announcements on the subways imploring people not to jump in front of the train in the rush hours. The other thing the authorities did was to bill the family of the deceased for the cleanup.

  35. “You think you die alone, but that’s not true. No one is alone. We have to coexist and take care of each other.”

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