Japan has been impressive in so many ways from the advent of technology, distinct culinary scene, warm local hospitality, lush nature and futuristic inventions. It really passes off as a perfect country to live in. This is a side of Japan that we all see, in travel brochures, advertisements and videos.
However, there is a side of Japan on the complete opposite end of the spectrum — the dark side. In fact, there is a specific place in Japan that not only draws curious tourists, but attracts those contemplating suicide. This chilling site is none other than Aokigahara Forest, notoriously labelled as Japan’s Suicide Forest which boasts a dark legacy.
This forest is situated on the northwestern flank of Japan’s iconic Mount Fuji. The forest is so thick with foliage, that it actually passes as a “Sea of Trees”. We figured that from the outside, it appears just like any ordinary forest but what lurked inside the forest really sent chills down our spines. There were just three main types of visitors who came to visit this forest: 1) trekkers who wanted an alternative perspective of Mount Fuji’s vistas, 2) curious tourists who wanted a glimpse of this bizarre site and 3) souls who honestly didn’t plan on leaving.
Thoughts about Japan's Suicide Forest
Before even stepping inside, we were greeted with cryptic signs urging suicidal visitors to reconsider and think of their families. Throughout the forest, trees were emblazoned with messages like “Your life is a precious gift from your parents,” and “Please consult the police before you decide to die!”. It was really tough for us to stomach the whole atmosphere and vibe because it felt incredibly real and unnerving. The silence was deafening and the place, naturally eerie and still. There was also this immense sadness that permeated through the woods — it’s hard to put into words honestly.
At the same time, this unusual “attraction” really made us ponder and think. In a world where we’re always in pursuit of success, wealth and growth, what is actually being lost along the way? It appears that in some cases, this pursuit is at the expense of a precious life. To top it off, it’s prevalent in a country that’s almost perfect — no poverty, not much political problems, and where people dedicate their lives to succeed.
We witnessed a real irony in Japan’s Suicide Forest because in a world where society places so much emphasis on jobs, wealth and schools, suicide becomes a form of escape. It becomes alluring to those who really wish to put a stop to all their worldly struggles. And the only thing standing between life and death for these individuals is a piece of string — that’s it.
Japan's suicide rates in numbers
In Japan, suicide borders on a crisis level and there has been an increasing worry on youths and children. Based on the World Population Review, the number of suicide cases surpassed 20,000 with the male suicide rate more than double that of female’s. These statistics are almost double that of Singapore’s — a comparatively developed nation. The suicide rates here are really one of the highest in the developed world.
Another common trend is that suicide cases tend to increase during March as it marks the end of the fiscal year in Japan. Unfortunately, most of them lose their lives either by hanging or drug overdose. In an attempt to decrease, Aokigahara’s association with suicide, local officials have stopped publicising actual numbers. On the bright side, the number of suicide cases have been declining every year and it reflects how the government’s actions have resulted in a positive impact on its citizens.
Raising awareness about suicide
Our visit to Japan’s Suicide Forest was a somber one but it was enlightening in many ways. Suicide is in fact a very real problem and something still very deep-seated in some countries. It boils down to a myriad of factors but with reference to Japan, the social acceptability and culture of tolerance might be the key driving forces behind this issue. We were appalled upon finding out that some viewed suicide as a way of taking a morally responsible action, because in Japan, acceptance and conformity takes precedence over one’s personal beliefs.
Ikigai is a very powerful Japanese concept which means “a reason for being”. We strongly feel for this concept because of its simplicity. If you find a reason behind your existence, just one reason, that’s enough to propel you in life. Japan’s Suicide Forest should serve as a reminder that suicide has been a solution for many but with ikigai, it no longer has to be.