Having recently visited Japan, this Japanophile finds joy in sharing her stories and experiences with others.
Who hasn't heard of Aokigahara, the notorious Japanese forest at the base of Mt. Fuji? There is nothing menacing about its literal name, but the same cannot be said of its sinister, and far more well-known, nickname—"suicide forest." In Japan, this place is a commonly chosen suicide destination, and as such, it has gained notoriety well beyond the country's borders. Two years ago, a movie came out, starring Natalie Dormer, which further spread the ominous image of the otherwise normal forest.
Seeing how a lot of people are deeply fascinated by this place and have a lot of questions about it, I have decided to share my experience with you. Just a gentle reminder though, to treat this topic and place with respect.
How do you just 'end up' there?
I went to Japan in July 2017 and took a trip to Fuji Five Lakes on a very sultry summer day. I had no intention of visiting Aokigahara since even seeing its name on the local maps gave me the creeps. Perhaps I dreamt of it once when I was a teenager, but those days were long gone. Because it was summer and our bus was late, the imposing Mt.Fuji was completely shrouded in mist and clouds by the time we have arrived. Trying not to feel too down about it, my boyfriend and I decided to opt for the next best thing: the caves. We visited the wind cave and really enjoyed the experience—we found crawling through small spaces adrenaline-inducing—so our next step was, naturally, to check out the nearby ice cave. Not wanting to wait for the bus, we asked some locals for the directions and they suggested we took a hiking trail through a nearby forest.
Now, maybe I should have known where I was heading, then, but I did not think about it at all. The locals treated it casually and even said that there was a well-trodden hiking path and that we couldn't possibly get lost. And that is how we "ended up" in Aokigahara.
What does it look like?
After entering, it took us a couple of moments to realize where we were, and even then it was just a suspicion at first. My first impression was that of awe. The place is so wild and untamed, the roots are going crazy growing in whichever way they can possibly think of, and the trees occasionally lean together so that they form a tunnel-like structure... and in the middle of all that, there is a completely normal, although slightly bumpy, plain hiking path made of hardened lava. I don't think the pictures (or my words) capture the "wilderness" of it all that well. It fills you with silent respect for nature and its power.
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Are there really signs everywhere?
The hiking trail was very straightforward, mostly due to all of the potential 'crossroads' being blocked off by ropes, and occasionally a "keep out" sign, sometimes even in English. For those wondering, yes, there are a lot of signs, some simply marking the names of trees , but there was one or two stressing the value of human life and addressing the suicide issue. Turns out we were walking down the exact route that was shown in the beginning of the documentary which first introduced me to Aokigahara.
Is it scary?
Obviously, this depends on what type of a person you are. The place itself is not too scary if you stay within the designated boundaries, which you will, if you have any sense, do. Rather than scary, it's awe-inspiring and makes you respect the nature and its power. Just imagining crossing those boundaries is terrifying, though, because it is the kind of wild forest where you most likely won't find your way back if you leave the path.
However, knowing what I did about the forest prior to my entering it, I did feel very uneasy. I constantly dreaded the possibility of seeing some tied ropes leading deeper into the forest, because I knew what they meant. And I couldn't help but think about the people who have, in fact, lost their lives there. It did not help that we were there at the time of the day when no one else was (partially because it began to rain) and that the forest was deadly quiet. You would think a wild place like that is crawling with wildlife, and it probably is, but there was no sign or sound of it anywhere. The only live being that we actually saw was a darn Japanese striped mosquito—and boy, do I hate those—just before exiting the forest.
To Sum Up
I like to remember our Aokigahara experience and feel very fondly and strongly about it. The forest is absolutely gorgeous and unlike anything I have ever seen before (coming from Slovenia). However, I personally found the experience a bit too upsetting (entirely from the psychological aspect) and would not like to return there.
© 2018 Doris Sorgar