Spelunking in Japan’s suicide forest

At the foot of Mount Fuji in Japan, there is a lush forest that grew from hardened magma. It slightly crawls at the foot of the volcano, threatening to overtake it with its tangle of tree roots and moss.

The ground is all volcanic rock, the spillage from an eruption long ago still apparent as you make your way through the trails. It is thick with trees and vegetation bursting out from the black ground, like bony, menacing fingers grasping deep into the ground.

This place is quiet, peaceful and beautiful. This place is called Aokigahara, or more infamously: the Suicide Forest.

Here among a place born from ash and molten lava, many decide to take their lives.

Suicide has a long history in Japan. It seems to be widely accepted as a decision people make but the Japanese government has taken some action to try to curb the number of suicides around the country.

I first heard about Aokigahara from Vice. After watching the incredibly sad and dark Vice piece, I was fascinated. So, naturally, I went.

I didn’t go alone, of course. In the Fuji area there are a handful of outdoor adventure companies that cater to Japanese and English-speaking foreigners alike. We joined a tour by a company called Country Lake Systems.

The tour included a short hike through the forest to a chilly cave for some spelunking.

Unlike the Vice piece, we didn’t see anything creepy or spooky. The cave had a whole bunch of ice in it but it was a refreshing break from the hot, humid air outside.

This was my first time spelunking and I have to admit it was a little scary but it was worth it in the end.

I plan to go back on a tour to Aokigahara but this time with an English-speaking guide since this time we booked last minute and they only had a Japanese language tour available. Unfortunately, there was a lot of mud, so they discouraged us from bringing our own cameras for fear that we’d damage our property. Next time, though, I will insist on bringing my own.

All in all, not a spooky place when you go with two tour guides and two families with small children.
Reflecting on the beauty of Aokigahara, it is extremely sad and hard to believe that such a place that looks like it’s out of a story book could also be a place where so many have decided to end it all.

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