Sunday, October 30, 2011

Suicide Forest

Tomorrow is Halloween.  Or "Samhain" as it was known in certain Celtic precincts.  Time for jack-o-lanterns, apple bobbing, bonfires, and evil spirits.

I'm not a big fan of this holiday.  In fact, it's in my top three least favorites along with New Year's Eve and Fourth of July.  Being a police volunteer tends to change your perspective on all of those celebrations.  One good thing to come from this day, however, is intriguing television programming that you don't get to see other times of the year.  It was on one of these shows that I learned of Japan's "Suicide Forest."

Aokigahara, also called "Sea of Trees," is located near Mount Fuji in Japan.  It is a dense forest that has long since been touted as a dwelling place of demons in Japanese mythology.  It has been called an "eerily silent" woods and is almost devoid of wildlife. 
Most disturbing of all is the fact that Aokigahara appears to be a mecca for people who wish to commit suicide.  Depressed people would go to the area, leave their cars parked in trailhead parking lots, then hike into the woods and enter thanatopsis.  Over 247 people attempted suicide there in 2010 alone and 54 were successful.  Every year, Japanese officials move through the forest and collect the remains of those who have gone deep into the woods to hang themselves or otherwise end their lives.  Signs warn visitors to reconsider suicide and give contact numbers of where to seek help.  The forest is also said to be a place where ubasute was practiced as recent as the 19th Century.  Ubasute was the act of leaving an elderly relative in a forest or on a mountainside to die.  Not surprisingly, this has all led to stories of ghosts haunting the forest.  Another popular misconception is that the area plays havoc with compasses and GPS units.  This appears unlikely as the Japanese Self Defense Force runs training maneuvers in the forest all the time and their stuff seems to work pretty well.  So what is to account for all of this?   Despite the forest's eerie qualities and morose reputation, I believe there's a slight possibility of something else at work.

Geologically, Japan is very active.  From earthquakes to volcanoes, they've got a lot going on in their ribbon-thin nation.  There is evidence that suggests that bursts of electromagnetic energy occur during seismic activity.  Electromagnetic field fluctuations are proven to have an adverse effect on the human brain.  Feelings of fear, depression, and paranoia can result from exposure to these energy waves.  Someone claiming to live in a haunted house might not have ghosts, but just exposed household wiring.  Given the geologic activity of the region, could these naturally-occurring EM waves be altering the thinking of forest visitors?  Or are the people already depressed and have their minds made up long before they get there?  
I can't really say.  However, every person who died in Aokigahara had someone who loved them...even if the deceased didn't see it that way.  The sheer loss of life alone makes me think this qualifies as an "evil place."  No supernatural or paranormal reason needed.

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