Mount Fuji, a venerated symbol of Japan, is the destination of the pilgrimage that many Shintoists feel they have to make at least once in their lives. But the Northwestern base of the volcano is lapped by a green and luxuriant mass called Aokigahara, a forest that covers a surface of 35 square kilometres. Aokigahara is the dark side of the holy mountain, the evil without remedy, the shady zone of Japan itself.
Aokigahara is a green maze scattered with traps. Caverns, chasms and holes that burst open all of a sudden, twisted roots that deceive you as you walk by; here the vegetation popping out from the rocky soil is so thick that sunrays cannot filter in. As every noise dies down, even animal life seems non-existent, or hidden. Trees, wooden grapevines, tentacular creepers everywhere and not a single reference point: the concept of space is distorted in the repetitiveness of the surroundings, and we unavoidably end up bewildered, to the point that the most cautious explorers venture off the trail equipped with long plastic ribbons that they use as Ariadne’s threads. But some people choose Aokigahara with the precise intention of getting lost forever.
Since the middle of the last century, around one hundred people per year have killed themselves in the forest. An average rate of two per week. The number of suicides is said to shoot up around March, when the time comes to pay contributions. Aokigahara – “the perfect place to kill oneself” – receives the workers that work has deprived of everything, the weakest links that end up crushed by the Machine, those who prefer to disappear with a bit of dignity: now that the seppuku ritual is out of fashion, they rely on barbiturates or a rope.
Considering the high rate of suicides, it is no surprise that the forest is commonly believed to be haunted by spirits. The souls of those who died in the deepest despair are called yurei, and by now they have permeated each tree, leaf and stone in Aokigahara. Forest rangers regularly search the undergrowth looking for corpses, and when they find one they bring it to a specific room near the wood. They resort to rock-paper-scissors to decide who will perform the unrewarding task of sleeping beside the corpse all night long, to prevent his/her yurei from waking up screaming.
Just another damned routine in the forest of the damned.