In almost every culture and religion, the act of suicide is one of the most taboo acts possible. It is a common belief that life is precious — a gift given to us from a higher power, or in a atheistic/mathematical view, a miracle of astronomical possibility. Whether it is the one-trillionth of a chance that you became you, or that God designed you by His love and His desire for life, we are all affected by our limited lifespan and the general improbability of being here on Earth in the first place. Yet most of us are born with inherent feelings of potential, and perhaps even a sense that all lives carry a possibility for greatness. We live our lives to meet these expectations — some reach these lofty goals; the rest of us fall short.
For some of us, there is no happiness; there is no attainment of splendor or bliss to eclipse the mourning of each breath exhaled. Some of us reach epic levels of physical pain and call on medical experts to end our suffering. Others reach our capacity for enduring emotional or mental anguish and take matters in our own hands.
Regardless of personal religion, ethics, or history, suicide remains as one of our most submerged impulses and unspoken societal norms. Suicides typically do not make the papers unless the individual is a celebrity — and even then it is danced around (i.e. Michael Jackson‘s possible doctor-assisted demise). For the common man who ends his or her life, the obituary reads “died unexpectedly,” or there is no cause of death mentioned at all. These poor souls are often not allowed church-sanctioned burials or are segregated to distant corners of the graveyard: ostracized in death as they likely were ostracized while alive.
Death mimics life.
We have all been there. (Most, anyway.) At the very least, each of us has contemplated the endpoint of existence. When our possibilities appear fruitless, or when failure becomes uncontrollable and inevitable, we have all thought of it, some of us have planned it, some of us have attempted it.
Many of us succeed at it.
In Japan, under the shadow of Mount Fuji lies the Aokigahara Forest: a beautiful and haunting landscape better suited to an Akira Kurosawa cinematic dream sequence than reality. The forest floor is dotted with Japanese moss, trees longingly reach for s sun that barely peeks through the dense forest canopy above. Throughout the forest are pathways — the trails made by the footfalls of thousands of mourners. The wandering, soon-to-be dead meander between the trees, crisscrossing over each other in twisted confusion. Rays of sun spear their way through the darkness of the forest, becoming pillars of light holding up the sky as a great celestial temple.
The forest has become a Mecca for Japan’s increasingly suicidal population. It’s now a cultural norm in “the Land of the Rising Sun” to enter these woods and never exit, leaving behind your personal belongings (and your corpse) in a quiet corner of the forest that will become yours for all of eternity.
In one year, the bodies of nearly eighty people are found in these woods.
It is quite common for visitors, forest rangers, and hikers to discover the remains of others scattered throughout the forest. In various states of decomposition, bodies are found propped against a tree with a rusty revolver in hand or razor-blade at wrists, or perhaps swinging mutely from a nearby tree limb. Sometimes they only find piles of personal possessions — photos of former loved ones ripped to pieces, a letter to his or her children or wife, a credit card or government ID left by the dead in a desperately plea for the recognition that eluded them in life.
Road signs are spread throughout the forest, paid for by Japan’s Suicide Prevention Department, a division of the Federal Government. These signs are posted sporadically in the woods reading “Please reconsider” or “Your life is precious.” Not many people pay attention to them.
The Japanese believe in the Yurei: the souls of men and women ripped from their earthly lives too soon, who are left to wander around the site of their spiritual cleaving. Such souls dwell within the trees of Aokigahara Forest. The local forest ranger’s office has a special room for the bodies of the Suicide Forest’s recently-discovered victims. In this room are two beds — one for the body and one for a park employee who must spend the night with the deceased. The Japanese believe the soul of the victim can only transcend to the afterworld completely if they do not sleep alone on the first night of their death; if left alone, a Yurei is formed.
The woods have produced some of the most haunting and disturbing pieces of paranormal evidence known to investigators. When SyFy’s “Destination Truth” investigated the woods, they uncovered a sorrowful shadow of a man sitting at a tree — he slowly stands as if contemplating a sliver of hope in life, only to sit back down in pitiful form. On a recent BBC broadcast, the investigators actually bumped into a living man sitting alone in a patch of moss amid the darkness. The crying man looked up only to shake his head and wander back into the darkened forest.
The Suicide Forest means more to us as people than any other haunted location in the world. While paranormal investigators descend on haunted houses or asylums to track voices in the night, or mysterious balls of light, Aokigahara Forest sits as a reminder of life before the afterlife. It is a place where people go to die. It houses and extinguishes the unquenchable sorrows and the pains of thousands of people who succumbed to the pressures of life, or rejected it all together. It is a place where people like you and I finalized their life stories with a pull of a trigger, a slit of the wrists, or a step off of a tree branch. It is a place where these sorrows were finally set free and a kind of peace was perhaps achieved, albeit at great sacrifice.
It is a place where we as people could learn more about life, rather than paranormal investigators about death.