The Sea Of Trees

As today is Valentine’s Day, it is worth noting that there are certain locations in United States – both the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and the Duke Ellington Bridge in D.C. come to mind – that have been associated for years with both attempted and completed suicides. However, nothing in North America comes close to Japan’s Aokigahara Forest.

Nicknamed ‘The Sea Of Trees,’ Aokigahara is located near the base of Mount Fuji, and is arguably the most popular place in the world at which to launch oneself prematurely into the Great Beyond, whether because of personal shame, financial ruin, or romantic failure. Japan has the second-highest rate of suicide in the developed world, almost as high as neighboring South Korea and nearly double that of the U.S. This dense forest – given its relative isolation and impenetrable foliage – appeals to many Japanese who desire privacy and non-interference with their plans.

Popularized in Seicho Matsumoto’s 1961 novel, Tower of Waves, in which a young woman kills herself there after becoming involved in a socially unacceptable relationship, the forest saw in 2004 (the most recent year for which statistics are available) 108 known suicides. I say ‘known’ because many of those who end their lives are not found for years, or even decades, after-the-fact. Hikers come across abandoned campsites, old photographs, diaries, and bones in tattered clothing all the time.

Things have gotten so bad that police and local fireman coordinate monthly sweeps to recover people in various states of consciousness and to gather human remains. In 2011 local authorities found about 100 people who were in the process of taking their lives in various ways, but many more went undetected. And if the search teams get there too late, workers must collect the decomposing bodies and carry them down to the local station, where they are stored in a special room used specifically to house these corpses.

Spiritualists have decided that so many suicides have occurred in Aokigahara that the trees are saturated with negative energy, producing exceptionally high frequencies of paranormal activity, such as audible screams at night and dead bodies moving on their own.

Now there are signs at the entrances to the forest with contact information for the Suicide Prevention Association that read: “Your life is a precious gift from your parents. Please think about your parents, siblings and children. Don’t keep it to yourself. Talk about your troubles.”

No word yet if this outreach program has had any appreciable effect on completed acts or not.

Have a Happy Valentine’s Day.

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