Suicide Forest: Jukai
One amazing piece of documentary on the subject of suicide in Japan. It is filmed by VICE magazine in 2011.
In the film, geologist Azusa Hayano introduced Aokigahara to us, a forest at the foot of Mt. Fuji, commonly known as Jukai (Sea of Trees). Apart from being a famous tourist attraction, Jukai is also on the list of world’s most notorious suicide sites. About 100 people die in the vast forest every year. In fact, Hayano himself alone has found over 100 bodies in his years patrolling the forest.
In the documentary, you see people leaving tapes on the tree trunks just in case they change their minds and decide to find their way back. The man Hayano encountered during the filming camped right in the middle of the trail, as if he wanted to be found. Those people who enter the forest are troubled, yes, but many are still struggling over their options.
(A sign in the forest urging people to reconsider; at the bottom, they provide phone numbers of the Suicide Prevention Association. Unfortunately, because of the size of the forest, it is difficult for the local government to spare enough resources to be more effective in preventing suicides.)
People do not just kill themselves in a forest. They consciously choose Jukai and often travel a long way to reach it. Local residents seldom even enter the forest. Somehow the notion of dying in a place where a lot others have done the same gives them some courage. Maybe a comforting thought of not being alone? — then you see those flowers offered on the site from families or friends of the deceased. They were NOT alone.
The idea of going to a popular suicide site to die reminds me a lot of the suicide clubs in Japan.
It is true that people meet online in those virtual “clubs” to find partners and arrange deaths together. However, it is not always as simple as we might think. Such online sites also allow people to share the most unspeakable fear, hatred, anger, and their deepest desperation. In a way, it contains some therapeutic value. Like the personal experience described by the interviewee in the article, people often back out of the plan and reconsider the action. Such hesitation may come from the attention they received from their “suicide partners”, connections they established in the club, consolations in the knowledge of shared suffering, or just simply a sudden fear of the reality of death. Whatever the reason is, a withdrawal often deters the partner’s suicidal plan as well.
Just to add a fun (?) fact to the dismal topic. Another famous suicide site in Japan is Kiyomizu (pure water) Temple in Kyoto. It is at the top of a hill and has a gorgeous scenery.
The famous veranda/stage (see above in the picture) in Kiyomizu has an old saying among Japanese:
清水の舞台から飛び下りる (to jump off the stage at Kiyomizu), the equivalent of English expression “to take the plunge.” However, many people, and I mean MANY, have taken it literally…