Aokigahara: Japan’s Forest of Death

Image: Unknown

Eerie Aokigahara

Mount Fuji, that great summit on the Japanese mainland, dominates its surroundings with a brazen majesty. One of Japan’s trio of holy peaks and so beloved of Hokusai, its snowy cone thrusts into the air as if trying in vain to marry land with sky. Naturally, Fuji has become an unmistakable symbol of Japan and is revered and celebrated throughout the nation’s history. Yet, almost unknown to Westerners, a very different place to the serene mountain sprawls at its base. A vast forest where the soil is fed by more than the usual leaf litter, long has Aokigahara Jukai been a name to whisper after dark. In lean years gone by impoverished local inhabitants would bring those that could not feed themselves to the forest to die. The elderly and infirm, the young and disturbed would die long, drawn-out demises starving to death, their unheeded cries stifled by the notorious denseness of the trees.

Image: Simon le nippon

A path through a ‘sea of trees’

But Aokigahara is no long-defunct burial ground existing now only as a tangled memorial, because even today the newly dead swing from its twisted boughs or lie rotting into its volcanic earth. Furthermore, it is not only the living and the deceased that occupy the forest; it is said that Yurei, Japanese spirits of the dead that cling to the earthly realm, flit between the trees; their white, shifting forms glimpsed occasionally by unsuspecting visitors.