Sunday, November 22, 2009

Haunted Japan

Mount Fuji, an active volcano, is the highest mountain in Japan and one of the nation's three "Holy Mountains." The mountain is a well-known symbol of Japan and more than 200,000 people climb it every year. While Mt. Fuji is one of the most beautiful places on Earth, the forest that lies at the base of the mountain, Aokigahara (Sea of Trees) is by far one of the creepiest. The Death Forest - which is reportedly so thick that even in high noon it's not hard to find places completely surrounded by darkness - boasts the highest number of suicides, second only the the Golden Gate Bridge, with more than 500.

The trend supposedly began after the publication of Seicho Matsumoto's novel, Kuroi Kaiju (Black Sea of Trees). Matsumoto's 1977 novel tells the story of a woman who has a love affair with a young public prosecutor. He is blackmailed by the woman's husband, and the only escape for the lovers is a double suicide inside the dark and mysterious Aokigahara forest. It should also be noted that a Sixties novel, The Pagoda of Waves, featured a woman who killed herself in the Aokigahara forest; the story was later turned into a television drama series. Making matters worse, the best-selling Complete Manual of Suicide described the forest as "the perfect place to die". In 1999 the manual sold more than 1.2 million copies.

In the 70s, the problem got national attention and the Japanese government began doing annual sweeps of the forest in search of bodies. In 2002, they found 78. Uplifting signs are scattered throughout the forest in order to to dissuade others who venture inside. "Your life is a precious gift from your parents," reads one. "Think calmly once again about them, your siblings and your children. Don't agonize over problems yourself - please seek counseling."
In 2004, director Takimoto Tomoyuk was shooting a movie about the forest and stumbled upon a wallet containing 370,000 yen (about $3,760). Thus began the proud Japanese tradition of Aokigahara Scavenging where people are running around the Death Forest, looking for dead guys to loot. I'm including a link with pictures of Aokigahara, but be warned: they're pretty brutal.

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