It was a beautiful October morning. The spectacular view of Mt. Fuji and the colourful canopies of trees from the hotel room made me feel an indescribable joy. After having our breakfast, me and my husband decided to go for a trek into the famous Aokigahara forest situated in the lap of Mt. Fuji.
Aokigahara or the sea of trees is a dense forest growing on lava which had flown at the time of last Mt. Fuji eruption around three hundred years ago. In fact, there are trees in the forest dating back to that time. At the beginning of the walk, we could hear the chirping of birds, but as we entered deeper into the forest it was so strangely silent that even the sound of our footsteps seemed like noise. It was little odd to see a sign board at the start of trail saying ” 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 troubles.”
Since it was autumn, the whole forest had become a koyo spot. There were Japanese red pines and colourful maples spread around. The forest floor was rocky and uneven upon which laid a thin layer of lava soil. From under the blanket of dried leaves and moss came out the roots of the trees giving the appearance of skeleton limbs. This imagination of mine is not entirely wild as this forest is notorious for being a common suicide site. Alyne Pustanio noted in her blog on May 2013 that there had been hundreds of suicides every year and the most dreadful part is that the body searches are conducted annually leaving a high chance of people discovering human skeletons and even dead bodies during their hike. Sometimes stepping on the soft roots of the trees scared the hell out of me. Since everything was written in Japanese, we could not much understand the signboards. The maps were a little helpful but not clear enough as to which path led to which place. In our confusion, we entered a particularly long trail of 3 kilometres and were having a good time in the peaceful ambience of the forest. But soon the sunlight started waning. The inside of the forest became dark although everything was dimly visible. All sorts of thoughts were crossing my mind. According to legend, in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, the custom of “Ubasute” was performed in the depths of the forest. Old and infirm people were left in the woods to die out of starvation and dehydration mostly at the times of famines. Local folklore says that the forest is still haunted by the angry spirits or “yurei” of the abandoned people. It is said that the spirits scream through the nights and their decomposed bodies move on their own if the corpse is left unattended. Spiritualists believe that there has been so much death in Aokigahara that the souls of the deceased have permeated the trees and prevent people who enter the forest from escaping.
We were walking as fast as possible in the shadowy melancholy. Somehow the trail did not seem to end. There were dark lava caves and caverns along the path. The inside of the caves were extremely cold and had a creepy appearance. I had read accounts of hikers who said that there was a tendency to get lost and move in circles within the forest as if being compelled by the forlorn souls trapped in the gnarled trees. The compasses and the cell phones also do not work properly in the interiors due to the large depositions of magnetic materials in the volcanic soil and rocks. The Locals say that the unhappy spirits beckon the Travellers and adventurers to join them and share the curse. In fact, forest rangers have reported sounds of wailing and crying while searching and retrieving dead bodies from the depths of the woods.
While I was lost in my world of fear and anxiety, a ray of light fell on my face. Me and my husband both looked at each other at the same instant with a relieved smile on our face. I asked my husband if he knew that Aokigahara is known to be “the perfect place to die”. He said “no” but looked disturbed. He said “there was something very unpleasant in there, its kind of depressing inside.” The saintly appearance of Mt. Fuji with white clouds forming the long beard and the moustache seemed like freedom from the evil grip of the haunted trees.
Alyne Pustanio, “The 13 Most Haunted Places in the World: No. 1, Aokigahara Jukai, The Suicide Forest, Japan.”, Blogger, http://alynesvoxarcana.blogspot.jp/2013/05/the-13-most-haunted-places-in-world-no.html