At the base of Mount Fuji is the Aokigahara forest. It stretches 35 square kilometers north-west and is extremely dense in trees, giving it the appearance of an Atlantis green sea from an aerial view as well as it’s name, which literally translates to ‘sea of trees’. It is one of Japan’s most visited destinations for three main reasons. The first is the thrill. The more adventurous tourists get a kick out of trying to find their way out of the Aokigahara which is much like a labyrinth. The second is for the nature. The forest is chillingly quiet and almost entirely devoid of wildlife. And the third reason people visit Aokigahara is to commit suicide.
The darker name given to Aokigahara is ‘suicide forest’ and it is the second most popular destination in the world after the Golden Gate Bridge to take one’s life. On average, 100 bodies are found in the Aokigahara forest every year. This has led to Suicide Prevention signs being placed around the forest such as this:
This one reads “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 problems.”
Suicide is not just a phenomenon witnessed in Japan. Worldwide, about one million are recorded per year and it is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States. The reasons for suicides vary from mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety to inability to cope with everyday and/or specific pressures and traumas.
Perhaps not a direct ’cause’ but certainly an aggravating factor towards suicide is the romanticization of it. Sites like Tumblr are ridden with gifs of beautiful bleeding girls, while elsewhere people unwittingly paint suicide as a kind of dignified act that is exquisitely sad but beautiful. The following comment was found under this Youtube video of Gene Sprague jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge:
We see the same subconscious romanticization in a review for the film “The Bridge” (a 2006 documentary about suicide) from Rotten Tomatoes which describes the footage of suicides as “viscerally fascinating”. In other instances, the idealization of suicide is morbidly intentional. Author Seicho Matsumo’s Romeo-and-Juliet-esque ending of his 1960 novel Kuroi Jukai in which the troubled lovers take to the Aokigahara to end their lives together contributed to a spike in popularity of the forest as a place of ‘serene suicide’. LIFE magazine’s article “The Most Beautiful Suicide: A Violent Death, An Immortal Photo” is another shocking piece of media which depicts the death of a woman with depression as something artistic as if rendering her suffering and unheard pleas for help as irrelevant in comparison to our viewing pleasure. This is the “glamorous” picture taken of the woman (Evelyn McHale) who landed on a limousine after jumping from the Empire State Building:
These gifs, comments, videos, stories and pictures are sensationalist. They take one tiny portion of the whole picture and skew them enough so that they please our visual taste buds and trick us into believing that we have a more sophisticated and avant garde taste for beauty because suicide is just a wee bit taboo.
This is a sick, dangerous and not to mention, poorly informed view to take. The movie-like shot of Evelyn McHale doesn’t reveal the confusion and pain her fiance Barry Rhodes, a young Airman and student, whom she was to marry in less than a month felt. The video of Gene Sprague falling from the Golden Gate Bridge never showed us the part where Gene had suffered from depression as a teenager, being the unwanted son of a single mother and that he had often spoken of ending his life to his family and friends but was never taken seriously. Matsumo’s novel closes with the lovers taking their lives together in the dappled forest, choosing to ignore what happens afterwards such as the decomposing bodies, a traumatic sight for the unwary hiker. “I’ve seen plenty of bodies that have been really badly decomposed, or been picked at by wild animals,” a local man from Aokigahara says, “There is nothing beautiful about dying in there.” It ignores the fact that ‘forest workers’ such as Azuso Hayano risk their lives trekking through the forests in the hopes of saving someone from ending theirs and in most cases, must end up carrying the bodies they find out of the forest.
More importantly, these sensationalist articles fail to tell the unfathomable grief suicides have on the deceased’s family and friends. On average, suicides intimately affect 6 other people because a person isn’t just a physical entity. They exist in people’s memories, their hopes, they play a role in another’s view of the world and take a place in their future. When a person dies, a part of someone else dies too.
In this video, Azuso Hayano is on another Suicide Prevention search through the thick of Aokigahara. He comes across a bouquet of flowers and some photos by the base of a great tree, laid there by the family of the deceased. “You think you die alone,” he says, “But that’s not true. Nobody is alone in this world.”
Please speak someone if you are thinking of ending your life: Suicide Crisis Lines.