The Aokigahara forest, also called the Sea of Trees, sits right along the edge of Mount Fuji, roughly a two-hour drive west of Tokyo.
At the entrance of the forest, a sign reminds visitors that “life is a precious gift” from their parents.
“Quietly think once more about your parents, siblings or children,” the sign says in Japanese. “Please don’t suffer alone, and first reach out.”
A sign at the entrance of the Aokigahara forest urges suicidal visitors to reach out for help.
Aokigahara’s dark reputation has been around for decades. In a popular 1960 novel by Japanese author Seicho Matsumoto, a heroine heads into the forest to take her own life. More recently, in a 2016 American horror film, “The Forest,” a woman goes there looking for her twin sister, who mysteriously disappeared in the woods.
More than 100 people who were not from the area surrounding Aokigahara committed suicide there between 2013 and 2015, according to a local government report. Countrywide, suicides totaled roughly 24,000 people in 2015 alone, according to the country’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. These numbers do not include attempted suicides.
Experts have long considered why some choose to come to the forest to die. Three decades ago, a Japanese psychiatrist who interviewed a handful of Aokigahara suicide survivors wrote that a key reason was that “they believed that they would be able to die successfully without being noticed.”
The psychiatrist, Dr. Yoshitomo Takahashi, believed that movies and media reports may have also played a role. Some may have traveled to the forest from other provinces because they wanted to “share the same place with others and belong to the same group,” he wrote.
Nakamura pointed to research by Emory University anthropologist Chikako Ozawa-de Silva on the trend of online suicide forums in Japan. According to Ozawa-de Silva, the internet provides an outlet for those seeking social connection, and who fear isolation, “to die with others.”
Nakamura sees a potential parallel to the thought process surrounding the forest: “Many people have committed suicide at Aokigahara; thus you won’t die alone.”