Aokigahara Jukai is a dense dark forest at the base of Mount Fuji that was formed over volcanic rock from when Fuji-san last errupted. One of the reasons why Aokigahara Jukai is visited is that it is the site of popular tourist attractions like the Ice and Wind cave which are just two of the many lava formed caves in the area. The other reason is much darker. Aokigahara Jukai is also known as the “Death Forest”, “Suicide Forest”, and as the Kuroi Jukai – the Black Sea of Trees. Please enjoy the scariest (and most disturbing) Japan photo walk I have been on to date.
My journey started at the tourist information center at Kawaguchiko station where I asked the information lady about how to get to the “Wind Cave” or “fugaku fuketsu” in Japanese and about hiking in that general area. Instantly, you could see the look of concern on her face. You see, it makes the locals very uncomfortable when a guy, who is alone, is asking for information about Aokigahara Jukai. The forest has a strong association with death and suicide. In an average year, 75-100+ people are found dead in the endless Sea of Trees. In fact, so many people die there that the Japanese government stopped posting the number of bodies found in hopes to lessen the areas association with death.
Reluctantly, she gave me a hiking map of the entire Mount Fuji Five Lakes area which came in handy. I boarded a bus and head out for the Lake Saiko (pronounced Psycho ^^;) area.
After a short bus ride, I arrived in the Aokigahara area. The first thing I wanted to check out was the lava made caves. As much as I love braving scary and haunted places, I did actually come to see the caves as well. ^^;
The Wind Cave (fugaku fuketsu) was freezing. The temperature went from in the 80s with heavy humidity to around 40 degrees instantly. It felt like I found a portal to Antarctica or something. ^^;
Due to the cold weather of the cave, it also functions as a housing location for silk worms. You can find them at the bottom of the cave.
Also in the back of the cave, are some beautiful ice formations that require you to walk on extremely slippery grounds to take a photo. When I took this shot, I actually had one hand braced on the fencing just to keep balance. ^^;
Overall, it wasn’t a bad cave (kind of small though). The name might be a bit off though. There was no wind. ^^;
After exploring the Wind Cave, I started on the hiking trail to another nearby cave known as the Narusawa Ice Cave or “narusawa hyoketsu” in Japanese.
At the start of the forest, I came to a large sign in Japanese. I thought it was saying “this way to the Ice Cave” but with further research, I found the sign said this: “Your life is a precious gift from your parents. Think about them and the rest of your family. You don’t have to suffer alone. 0550-22-0110 (Police Station)”
Even without reading that sign, at the time, you can just feel the darkness and sorrow as you traverse to the ice cave.
The trail to the ice cave is a well maintained trail that is for use of tourists. Along the way, you can see signs in Japanese asking you not to go off the trail and just as you are almost to the ice cave you will start to see trails that are roped off that go deeper into the dark forest. I planned on going down one of those trails after seeing the ice cave…
The Narusawa Ice Cave is another freezing lava-formed cave that is known for having ice even in the middle of August. The temperature difference is so great that you can actually see mist forming where the humidity meets the cold dry air.
The ice cave was actually a much better cave then the wind one in my opinion. The ceiling is so low that you literally have to almost lay down and scoot on your arse for some parts of the cave. ^^;
Near the back of the cave, I saw something almost completely shrouded in darkness. Looks like a lot of offerings…
As you go deeper into the cave, the walls will be lined with solid ice. I couldn’t resist touching it even though I feared that my hands would get stuck to the ice (no problems).
The ice formations in the Narusawa ice cave were absolutely beautiful. Thankfully, my photos came out and show the changing lights quite well.
Overall, I was impressed with the Narusawa Ice Cave. It’s definitely worth your time if you find yourself around the Lake Saiko area.
Clearing my frosted glasses from condensation, I set off to explore the actual forest of Aokigahara Jukai – The Sea of Trees. It should be said that given the nature of this forest, readers especially sensitive to the subject of suicide should continue at their own discretion.
Behind the Narusawa Ice Cave are two “unofficial” hiking trails that go deep into Aokigahara forest that were made for the local cities annual corpse hunts. Both trails are roped off and one of them has in English “Do Not Enter”. Additionally, there are security cameras installed to give officials advanced warning when someone who looks like they are going to commit suicide enters the forest. At the time…I did not know this. ^^;;
Luckily, I did not encounter any local police during this little escapade. So, reader be warned, I was fortunate to have not gotten caught. Do not go into this forest unless you are prepared the possibility of dealing with the local police. ^^;;
A short distance down the forbidden path, I had already found signs of people. A tarp is left on the ground along with some rope….
At the enterance to the trail, you are warned that there is no camping allowed. This is because Japanese will often come to Aokigahara to “camp” but in reality that are pending suicide and just waiting for the “courage” to undertake the act.
Your probably wondering why I would even want to go on a trip to Aokigahara Jukai at all. It’s simple. To say that I went in to the Sea of Trees and survived. The locals say that once you enter the forest, you will not be permitted to leave. Many people, who did not intend on suicide, have gotten hopelessly lost in this enormous forest of darkness.
As I continued further into Jukai, the whole place took on a different atmosphere that I will try my best to describe: one of absolute misery, fear, darkness, and overwhelming despair. Personally, I am not depressed and I believe that life is short enough as it is but, even so, I felt the aura of this place.
If you notice, there is now bright colored plastic tape now running down the path. The tape is used to help the local volunteer corpse hunters to keep from getting lost and also to mark what areas they have covered already.
In Japan, some folks still consider suicide as an honorable method to dealing with issues (loss of job, shame, loss of wife). In my opinion, suicide should never be an option because while you are done with your troubles, it’s the ones who are left behind that feel the pain. The people who go into Aokigahara (who are not tourists ^^;), should think about their family and mothers and how they would feel if they chose to take their lives.
As I walked further on, things became more like a horror story. Every tree was covered with spider webs and very shortly my glasses and hair were covered in webbing. At one point, I actually had an enormous spider in the palm of my hand! ^^;;
I spotted something in the woods just now….
A pile of gear that looks to have been left by a corpse handler. You can see a flashlight, batteries, hacksaw, scissors, tape, rubber gloves, and numerous chemicals. I’m not sure what the chemicals were for, but I imagine the hacksaw and scissors would come in handy. ^^;
Here is a short video of my walk off the trail in Aokigahara Jukai so you can get a feel of what the place was like. You can tell I was a bit scared out there. ^^;;
Now, I was really deep into the forest and the tape had changed from pink to bluish. The forest is much more eerie and silent now.
At this point, I was reaching my limit by how much I could be creeped out before going back. I could just imagine how horrifying it would be do see someone hanging from a tree or with their wrist slashed. Another thought came to mind, what if I saw someone out there? What if they wanted me to join them forcefully?
This forest is known as a place where you will never be found after all…..
So, how did Aokigahara Jukai become such a miserable place of death?
The forest is popularized as “the perfect place to die” in the Suicide Handbook (^^;) and in the novel “Kuroi Jukai” which ends with two lovers taking their lives in Aokigahara Jukai. Actually, even before the novel, the forest has been known as a place of demons and of evil during the Edo period. Also, in the 19th century, the forest was a popular location to commit “Ubasute“, that is, leaving an elderly relative behind to die of starvation or dehydration all alone in the forest.
As you can see, it’s no wonder that the locals steer clear of this area and that it is believed to be haunted. Many ghost hunters will come to the forest at night fall to try and record evidence of lingering spirits. Personally, I could barely handle the place during the day time. ^^;
At this point, I turned around and just wanted to get the hell out of the forest. ^^; Later, I would feel a bit stronger for having the courage to go into it at all (well courage or stupid curiosity) but at the moment I have had enough of the atmosphere of the place.
Just then, I noticed something else hanging on a tree as I walked back. It was different from the usual multi-colored tape. Sweating heavily and scared to death, I went off the trail to see what it was…. ^^;;
The scene was tragic and was hard to look at. A rope was tied with skill to a high branch while an umbrella was neatly left against the tree. A shopping bag was found as well not far from the tree. This was, by far, the most disturbing sight I’ve seen in Japan.
You only get one life in this world and it’s not that long to begin with. Life is not so cheap as to be discarded so easily. May God rest his/her soul and bless their family who are in my thoughts.
Noticeably shaken, I started my long trip back to Yokosuka.
Aokigahara Jukai was a unique experience (in a disturbing way) as well as a test of courage. I will certainly never forget it.
Disclaimer Time: For the record, I do not recommend going on this journey to Aokigahara (except the caves). The dangers have already been outlined above so if you do decide to go to Aokigahara Jukai, you do so with the full knowledge of the dangers of the forest.
Also, suicide is never an option. If those thoughts ever do enter your mind, remember to think of the people who know you and care about you. They are the ones that will be hurt by you leaving.
In addition, it was not my intention to glamorize Aokigahara as a suicide location. My blog is about recording both my good and bad experiences in Japan accurately through my photos and through knowledge obtained online and in person for my readers.
A smaller image for figure.fm feed recognition which feels appropriate for this article. The image is of Touhou Yuyuko and Yukari shortly after she takes her life (before she becomes the ghost we all know and love). The artwork is illustrated by windyakuma and is posted on Moe Imouto here.
Sources for this article:
The Swedish documentary “The Perfect Place” research Part 1
The Swedish documentary “The Perfect Place” research Part 2
The above clips are highly recommended if you would like to learn more about this dark forest.
Aokigahara wikipedia article
CNN Suicide Forest article