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Breaking Waves: Aokigahara

Updated on November 11, 2019

Suicide Forest

Aokigahara:  known as the Sea of Trees or the Suicide Forest, is a forest on the northwestern flank of Japan's Mount Fuji, thriving on 30 square kilometres of hardened lava.
Aokigahara: known as the Sea of Trees or the Suicide Forest, is a forest on the northwestern flank of Japan's Mount Fuji, thriving on 30 square kilometres of hardened lava. | Source

A Culture of Suicides

"Do not commit murder."

Thus, this is what Exodus 20:13 NIV declares in the bible from one of God's 10 Commandments, forbidding us not to kill. Whatever our beliefs are, religious or spiritual, whatsoever morals or values we affirm, to choose to end a life be it ours or that of others is unacceptable.

Often than not, most of us feel alone in our struggles and this is very common. Many grapple with suicidal thoughts or bent, on tendencies to one's choice of killing oneself.

Did you know that there are three conceivable forms when suicide is justifiable and lawful?

  • To kill one's assailant through proportionate self defense killing oneself in the process.
  • Lawful killing to prevent an individual from causing harm to others, in so doing killing oneself.
  • Lawful killing indirectly resulting in or contributing to suicide.

In Japanese culture, there is a long history of considering certain types of suicides, honorable, especially during military service.

Seppuku was the use of a short sword for self-disembowelment practiced mainly by samurai (warriors) to avoid dishonor, such as defeat in battle or as an act of protest against the government. Disembowelment is the removal of some or all of the organs of the gastrointestinal tract (the bowels, or viscera), usually through a horizontal incision made across the abdominal area.

Kamikaze was the method of flying a plane into the enemy used during World War II.

Banzai charges were human wave attacks used during the Pacific War.

During the Battle of Saipan and Battle of Tinian that resulted to American victory, Japanese combatants and civilians committed mass suicide at Suicide Cliff and Banzai Cliff.

Japan has a relatively high suicide rate compared to other countries, but the number of suicides is declining and as of 2013 has been under 30,000 for three consecutive years. In 2014 on average, 70 Japanese people die by suicide every day and majority of them were men. Seventy-one percent of suicides in Japan were male, men aged 20–44. By 2016, suicide rates had reached a 22-year low of 21,764, that is, men decreased by 1,664 to 15,017 and women decreased by 597 to 6,747.

As with many other countries, factors in suicide include unemployment, periods of economic stagnation or recession (such as the "Lost 20 Years" between 1990 and 2010 broadly impacting the entire Japanese economy), and social pressures.

In 2007, the National Police Agency (NPA) revised the categorization of motives for suicide into a division of 50 reasons with up to three reasons listed for each suicide. Suicides traced to losing jobs surged 65.3 percent, while those attributed to hardships in life increased 34.3 percent. Depression remained at the top of the list for the third year in a row, rising 7.1 percent from the previous year.


The Sea of Trees

Nami is the Japanese term for waves. Thus, the phrase "sea of trees" or "waves of it," could be found in Mount Fuji's "Suicide Forest."

Aokigahara also known as the Sea of Trees or the Suicide Forest, is a forest on the northwestern flank of Japan's Mount Fuji, thriving on 30 square kilometres (12 sq mi) of hardened lava laid down by the last major eruption of Mount Fuji in 864 CE. The western edge of Aokigahara, where there are several caves that fill with ice in winter, is a popular destination for tourists and school trips.

The Aokigahara woodlands spans some 3,000 hectares but has a soil depth of a mere dozen-plus centimeters. It is also a highly unusual forest in that it is comprised primarily of hemlock fir, Japanese cypress, and other evergreen needleleaf trees, yet also contains broadleaf trees such as longstalk holly, Japanese andromeda, Mongolian oak, Fuji cherry, and maple.

The thickly-wooded forest is also a good home to such living things as bats that live in the lava caves, small animals such as mice and moles, various birds including the great spotted woodpecker and the Japanese bush warbler, and insects such as ground beetles.

The Aokigahara forest in Japan has the unfortunate distinction of being a destination for people who are contemplating suicide. Since the 1950s, recorded suicides in the forest have been rising at an increasing rate of between 10 and 30 per year. In 2003, a record number of 105 suicide victims were discovered here.

The forest has a historical reputation as a home to yūrei: ghosts of the dead in Japanese mythology. In recent years, Aokigahara has become internationally known as "the Suicide Forest", one of the world's most-used suicide sites.
The forest has a historical reputation as a home to yūrei: ghosts of the dead in Japanese mythology. In recent years, Aokigahara has become internationally known as "the Suicide Forest", one of the world's most-used suicide sites.

An Abyss of Emptiness

Bad reputation aside, visitors have chosen this place, notoriously called The Suicide Forest, as the setting for their final moments. Likened to slowly sinking with the tide or current, finally descending for their final drop. Walking-in with no intention of ever walking back out.

Death by hanging is the most popular method of suicide among the sea of trees.The second is poisoning, often by drug overdose.

The forest's trees organically twist and turn, their roots winding across the forest floor in treacherous threads. Because of its location at the base of a mountain, the ground is uneven, rocky, and perforated with hundreds of caves.

But more jarring than its tricky terrain is the feeling of isolation created from the stillness. The trees are too tightly packed for winds to whip through and the wildlife is sparse. Parts of Aokigahara are very dense, and the porous lava absorbs sound, helping to provide visitors with a sense of solitude.

One visitor described the silence as an "abyss of emptiness." She added, "I could not emphasize enough the absence of sound. My breath sounded like a roar."

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