Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Aokigahara- The Suicide Forest

Aokigahara (青木ヶ原?), also known as the Sea of Trees (樹海 Jukai?), is a forest that lies at the base of Mount Fuji in Japan. The caverns found in this forest are rocky and ice-covered annually. It has been claimed by local residents and visitors that the woods are host to a great amount of paranormal phenomena.

The forest floor consists primarily of volcanic rock and is difficult to penetrate with hand tools such as picks or shovels. There are also a variety of unofficial trails that are used semi-regularly for the annual "body hunt" done by local volunteers, who mark their search areas with plastic tape. The plastic tape is never removed, so a great deal of it litters the first kilometer of the forest, past the designated trails leading to tourist attractions such as the Ice Cave and Wind Cave. After the first kilometer into Aokigahara towards Mount Fuji, the forest is in a much more pristine state, with little to no litter and few obvious signs of human contact. On some occasions human remains can be found in the distant reaches of the forest, but these are usually several years old and consist of scattered bones and incomplete skeletons, suggesting the presence of scavenging animals.

A very popular myth states that the magnetic iron deposits underground cause compasses to malfunction and travelers to get lost in the forest. However, Japan's Self Defence Force and the US Military regularly run training practices through portions of the forest, during which military grade lensatic compasses have been verified to function properly. Vehicles, GPS equipment, and other electronic devices function properly.

It is also a popular place for suicides, reportedly the world's second most popular suicide location after San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. Its popularity for suicides is due in some part to the novel Kuroi Jukai (黒い樹海 lit. Black Sea of Trees), which ends with the lovers of the novel committing suicide in the forest. Since the 1950s, more than 500 people have lost their lives in the forest, mostly suicides, with approximately 30 counted yearly. In 2002, 78 bodies were found within the forest, replacing the previous record of 73 in 1998. The high rate of suicide has led officials to place signs in the forest, urging those who have gone there in order to commit suicide to seek help and not kill themselves. The annual search, consisting of a small army of police, volunteers and attendant journalists, began in 1970.

In 2008, Joshua Gates and his team from the Syfy television show, Destination Truth, went to Aokigahara to look for ghosts.
Aside from those intending to die there, the dense forest and rugged inaccessibility has attracted thrill seekers. Many of these hikers mark their routes by leaving colored plastic tapes behind, causing concerns from prefectural officials for the ecosystem of the forest.

In 2004, a movie about the forest was released, called Jyukai — The Sea of Trees Behind Mt. Fuji (樹の海 lit. Sea of Trees), by the director Takimoto Tomoyuki. It told the story of four people who decided to end their lives in the forest of Aokigahara. While scouting for shooting locations, Takimoto told reporters that he found a wallet containing 370,000 yen (roughly $3,760 USD), giving rise to the popular rumor that Aokigahara is a treasure trove for scavengers. Others have claimed to have found credit cards, rail passes, and driver's licenses. (wikihistory)

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