Let's start with the obvious. This forest has a pretty darn serious reputation, one that is both unsettling and intimidating simultaneously. It carries connotations of things we'd rather not regurgitate. Simply put, they call it "the perfect place to end it all".
Anyway, let's move away from that. As we enter the brave new world of 2019, you’ve probably noticed that… well, not all that much has changed. Life is sure to be as super-hectic and stressful as ever, as the post-holiday blues kick in, the January sales are over and we all trudge on back to work. The silver lining is, for as many different sources of stress and pressure we face, there’s a stress-busting technique to help us cope with it.
One such technique is the Japanese art of shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing. It simply promotes our appreciation of nature (a concept that certainly isn’t lost on the Japanese), encouraging us to walk in forests or wooded areas, clear our minds and get lost in the beauty and serenity of the natural world.
It sounds simple, but forest bathing is catching on around the world, and, Quartz reports, “is proven to lower heart rate and blood pressure, reduce stress hormone production, boost the immune system, and improve overall feelings of well-being.”
The trouble is, though, you’ve got to be careful about putting the words ‘forests or wooded areas’ and ‘getting lost’ together in a sentence. Some woods, famously, are places that you don’t want to go obliviously wandering into.
Japan’s own Aokigahara would probably top that list. This infamous forest is said to be home to a legendary bird demon, and host supernatural forces that pull visitors in and want to keep them there forever. And did I mention that technology is rendered largely useless there by an odd magnetic power? Let’s take a closer look inside Aokigahara forest... if you dare.
25 That’s One Strange Amusement Park
Before we enter Aokigahara forest itself, let’s take a moment to meet the neighbours. The wood itself is one of the most notorious natural places on earth, but do you know what else was nearby? The infamous Gulliver’s Kingdom, that’s what.
This odd theme park was based on Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, and the niche concept (and chilling setting near Aokigahara in the shadow of Mount Fuji) ensured that it lasted only four years. Gulliver’s Kingdom opened in 1997 and closed in 2001, left to moulder for a further six years before being demolished in 2007.
It leaves behind a proud legacy of super-creepy photographs, particularly of the park’s huge Gulliver sculpture.
24 Where’s The Wildlife?
We humans are a hardy bunch, aren’t we? There are some parts of the planet that you’d think were simply too remote, too dangerous, too hot or too cold to be inhabited, but there we often are, just settling right in to some of them.
Other animals and organisms are even more resilient than we are, of course, adapting to the most impossible of environments. You’d be forgiven, however, for thinking that even the bravest of creatures have forsaken Aokigahara. There is wildlife here (we’ll be checking out the Cave of Bats later in this rundown), but animals tend to keep to the deeper twisting paths. They’re rarely seen by visitors, which only contributes to that feeling of nervous isolation.
23 It’s Really, *Really* Quiet In There
Now, what’s the first thing you learn in forest class? That’s right: there tend to be a whole darn lot of trees involved. That’s what being a forest is all about.
The question is, then, how thick with trees does a forest have to be to earn the moniker Sea of Trees?
They’re so densely-packed and tall, that’s the key thing here. This makes for an environment that isn’t just quiet and serene, but somehow oppressive and silent. Bird (and human) calls, when they do ring out, carry for long distances in Aokigahara, which just adds to the whole otherworldly vibe.
22 Security Cameras And Patrols Are Needed
So, there we go. As we’ve firmly established already, Aokigahara forest isn’t a place for the fainthearted. According to legends are hearsay, all kinds of spirits live among these trees. Even if you don’t believe in that sort of thing, it’s a dark, scary and disorientating place, and that’s reason enough to fear it.
That’s before we even touch on the ‘Forbidden Zone,’ an ominous area in the depths of the forest. Offbeat Japan’s account of the zone makes it quite clear that they aren’t kidding around with that name:
“Patrolling the 10 metres inside the forbidden zone are guards with a huge dog at their heels.”
21 Visitors' Accounts of Aokigahara Are Worrying
It’s safe to say that nobody’s making Aokigahara sound like Barney the Dinosaur’s Super-Fun and Happy Day About For The Whole Family, then. As I say, whether you’re one to get caught up in tales of the supernatural or not, it’s just an all-round unpleasant and potentially dangerous place to be.
As Mental Floss reports, one traveller who visited the forest described that cloying silence and stillness as “chasms of emptiness.”
"I cannot emphasize enough the absence of sound,” she continued. “My breath sounded like a roar."
Does any part of that sound like a good time to you? That’s because it isn’t.
20 Even The Ground Is Against You
Let’s pretend, just for a moment, that Aokigahara forest isn’t a spooky, silent, dark and frightening portal to heckola. Let’s pretend that there are happy unicorns and puppies roaming among the trees, just waiting to hug and snuggle visitors until they reach peak happiness.
Even if that were the case, you’d still have to be darn careful when venturing in. The forest floor itself is really dangerous. As Mental Floss explains, “because of its location at the base of a mountain, the ground is uneven, rocky, and perforated with hundreds of caves.”
I mean, seriously, Mother Nature. There’s no need to be like this.
19 Entering The Labyrinth (Very Carefully)
You might be familiar with the Ancient Greek legend of Theseus and the Minotaur. The man/bull beast lived in a labyrinth on the island of Crete, and the heroic Theseus had to find his way through the maze to slay the beast and escape. How did he avoid getting lost? By laying out a trail of thread and following it.
It’s a low-tech slice of brilliance MacGyver would be proud of, and it’s the same principle that visitors use today to find their way through the trees of Aokigahara. Plastic tape is used to enable travellers and campers to find their way around.
18 The Most Oppressive Atmosphere Since That Team Meeting With Darth Vader
As I say, then, forest bathing can be an effective way for people to shed some of the stress of their high-octane lives and demanding jobs. There’s nothing like leaving all of that baggage behind, just momentarily, and getting back to nature.
The trouble is, Aokigahara is just a little too much darn nature for most people. I don’t know how much foliage is too much foliage, but we’re probably getting perilously close to the cut-off here. As Atlas Obscura reports, this forest is so thick, dense and impenetrable that it’s come to be known as the Sea of Trees.
17 The Subject Of Various Horror Movies
Speaking of that otherworldly vibe and rumours of the supernatural, Aokigahara has been a popular subject for various forms of horror media.
Hollywood, naturally, has delved into the forest’s legend on numerous occasions. Movies such as 47 Ronin and The Sea of Trees have featured Aokigahara and elements of the legend surrounding it, while 2016’s supernatural horror The Forest used the forest as its setting throughout (rather, a forest in Serbia that doubled for it, as the Japanese government forbids filming in Aokigahara).
The Forest of Lost Souls is an interesting one, set in a fictional European forest that bears all the hallmarks of Aokigahara and makes several references to it.
16 More Scary Stories
There are all different kinds of horror fans. Some are movie-watchers, while others prefer to read novels. As for me, I’ve always found books to be more effective at eliciting that sense of dread. The best horror is the kind that your own imagination plays a part in, in my eyes.
Aokigahara’s certainly got us covered in that area, too. A lot of the forest’s notoriety can be attributed to Seichō Matsumoto’s novel Kuroi Jukai (Black Sea of Trees), which was published in 1960. In a way, it was this book that cemented Aokigahara’s place in popular culture, a reputation that it may never shake.
15 The Forest Is Home To A Legendary Japanese Bird Demon
Aokigahara is one of those places that has fallen victim to its own anti-hype. What I mean by this is, as its notoriety started to spread, the tall tales became ever taller. Many fear to enter the forest, deterred by the stories of supernatural happenings and mysterious presences.
Small wonder, too. According to the stories, the forest is home not only to spirits of those who have become lost, but some very special spirits at that. A Tengu --‘Heavenly Dog’ or “Mythical Bird Demon,” depending on how they’re depicted-- is said to dwell here; forests guardians who are well known for their capriciousness.
14 The Deeper You Go, The More Lost You Become
Well, sure, that’s a given. After all, while you can still see your car in the parking lot from where you’re standing, it’s a little difficult to get lost. You see where I’m going with this, though. When they tell you to stick to the path, you’d better believe that they MEAN you need to stick to that darn path.
The good news is, most visitors daren’t venture too deep into Aokigahara. The bad news, for the more adventurous and/or foolhardy among us, is that this makes it even more difficult for anybody else to. As Best Life Online puts it,
“the expanses of forest following [the entry points] are so thick and isolated they look virtually untouched. In fact, less than a mile into the forest, signs that hikers have been there start to disappear.”
13 Technology Goes Haywire In The Forest…
If you were to ask any millennial these days what their worst fear is (other than never being able to afford anything larger and more luxurious than a dog kennel to live in), they’d probably tell you that it’s the Wi-Fi going down. When this happens in the average house, it’s pandemonium. People you’ve never darn well seen before will emerge from bedrooms, demanding to know what the deal is.
If that sounds like you, then a trip to Aokigahara is not in your best interest. As Mental Floss explains,
“Rich with magnetic iron, the soil… plays havoc on cellphone service, GPS systems, and even compasses. This is why tape can be so crucial.”
12 …Or Does It?
As damning as all of this sounds for technoholics, there’s one important caveat to bear in mind. As is often the case with mysterious places like Aokigahara, certain ‘facts’ can be embellished. Exaggerated.
While the iron in the soil can affect navigation devices and other technology, it’s not an instant blackout sort of situation. As reported by The New York Times, geologists in Japan have explained that holding a compass directly to the lava can affect the needle, but it should work as normal when held as intended. As the reporter concluded,
“My compasses worked fine, as did my hand-held GPS device.”
11 The Floor Really *IS* Lava
Let’s back up a minute, friends, and acknowledge the fact that I did indeed just say “holding a compass directly to the lava.” If you’ve ever played that classic childhood game, you’ll know that walking on lava is the kind of thing that can ruin your entire morning. As can The Floor is Lava itself, when you break your mom’s antique lamp while jumping from the couch to an armchair (yep, that was clumsy old me).
Anyway, though, yes. We’ve already seen that Aokigahara stands at the foot of Mount Fuji, and as Best Life Online explains,
“Many of the pathways in the forest are made of hardened lava.”
10 The Forest That Mount Fuji Made
All of this lava business might well bring up a host of new questions. It does provide some answers as well, though. Specifically to the question of how the terrain of Aokigahara came to be so rocky, lumpen and awkward. A lot of it’s made of molten rock, that’s how.
Best Life Online goes on to explain that Mount Fuji erupted in 864 CE, which created the odd paths and channels that characterise the area. This is also the source of the high iron content in the ground, as we’ve seen before, though some believe that supernatural forces also play a part in that.
9 It Contains A Naturally Frozen Cave
Needless to say, though, hardened lava doesn’t mean boiling temperatures, hazardous gases and magma flowing all over the darn place. Mount Fuji has been behaving itself for some time now, after all, last erupting in the early 1700s (according to Britannica).
Forget intense heat, then. How about a naturally-frozen cave? Despite the forest’s notoriety, it’s a real tourist attraction, and people come from far and wide to see the Narusawa Ice Cave.
True to its name, this cave is frozen all year round, and boasts temperatures of an average of 37.4 degrees Fahrenheit. This place sure does have its share of curiosities, doesn’t it?
8 It Also Has A Famous ‘Cave Of Bats’
Now, I don’t know about you, but if there’s one thing I can always appreciate, it’s a bit of straight talking. No double entendres, no messing around, just getting straight to the darn point. Aokigahara might have a few horrifying bird demons roaming its paths, but I’ll say this for the forest: it gets right to the point with its place names.
The Narusawa Ice Cave? It’s an icy, frozen cave. The Lake Sai Bat Cave? It’s a cave with bats in. Good job, Aokigahara.
Sadly, this nationally-protected monument doesn’t boast as many bats as it once did (humans, being humans, brought them to the brink of extinction with land development and such), but they’re now protected, and their numbers are gradually increasing.
Bats aside, this stunning tourist attraction and its lava stalactites are a must-see if you’re in the area.
7 Supernatural Forces Draw Visitors In, And Want To Keep Them Here
Again, like a tediously tasteless cabbage-based recipe, just a pinch of salt is going to be needed here. This is one of those things, like the Yeti, Nessie, fairies and One Direction’s musical talent, that you need to really, really want to believe in to see. You know what science is like with claims of the supernatural.
Nevertheless, Aokigahara is the sort of place that has attracted claims like these for years. We already know about the connection between the forest and Mount Fuji, but apparently, there’s something more sinister at work here:
“According to folklore, Fuji, the fire goddess, descended to earth and gouged deep canals of supernatural force into the mountainside, including areas of the forest. It is believed that these forces act as a magnet and prevent anyone who enters the forest from ever leaving.” (via Mindamuse)
6 Bamboozling Even Experienced Hikers
There’s always that kind of person, isn’t there? The one who knows exactly how difficult, ridiculous or ultimately impractical a task may be, but goes ahead and does it anyway. More than that, this is their reason for doing it in the first place.
Hiking in Aokigahara is definitely one of these things. Remember the iron in the soil messing with instruments? Have you ever tried to get a phone signal in a remote location? Good luck with that. When you combine this unreliability with the naturally disorientating paths between the trees here, you can see how even veteran hikers could come undone here.
5 Paper Maps? What Century Is This?
I know. I hear you, friends, I definitely do. There are lots of us who don’t remember the frustration of using that most archaic of navigation tools: the paper map.
Ah, childhood family road trips. The turnoff you were looking for was ALWAYS in the fold between pages, mom was never fast enough to tell dad where it was, you’d take the wrong turning about 45 times every hour… as the oldies among us will know, you just can’t put a price on memories like that.
The tales of Aokigahara messing with electronics may be a little overexaggerated, but sometimes you do have to resort to something simpler. As Medium states,
“Scientists have studied the area, and now know that the soil and surrounding area have increased amounts of magnetic iron, which makes most technology unreliable and useless. Those who enter the haunted forest must rely on paper maps, and even so, never dare stray far from the designated trails.”
Paper maps? Like it’s 1402 or something? Now THAT is true horror.
4 Man, That’s A Lot Of Trash
Aokigahara is a scary place, there’s no doubt about that. equally certain, however, is the fact that it’s steeped in natural beauty, with a view of Mount Fuji that’s just world class.
Sadly, though, we just cannot have nice things. The majority of visitors to the forest, naturally, don’t venture in too far, and so the entrances and shallower trails of the forest see the most pedestrian traffic.
What does this mean? It means that they also see the most pedestrian traffic, and so the most rubbish. This is one of the happy tasks that awaits forest workers and volunteers, clearing away hikers’ detritus.
3 Some Of The Locals Daren’t Venture In
Maybe you’re feeling a little sceptical about the whole supernatural angle. Everyone’s got a different opinion on that, and everyone has a different tolerance to supposedly ‘haunted’ places and the spirits that dwell there.
The locals, you might think, may perhaps scoff at the tourists, suckered in by the fanciful stories of ghouls and goblins. As it turns out, though, some of the people who have grown up here are just as wary of this mystical forest. According to Mind Amuse,
“This goes back to their early childhood when they are taught the forest is a scary place they should avoid at all costs.”
2 Did It All Begin With Ubasute?
Aokigahara may have emerged as a pop culture curiosity more recently, but its dark and curious reputation dates back much further than that.
As Mysterious Universe reports, it’s said that the forest was once a common setting for the brutal art of ubasute. That was a practise in which, in times of extreme famine and hardship, elderly and dependent relatives were abandoned in a remote and desolate place, so as to reduce the amount of mouths to feed.
This is largely hearsay, and there’s no evidence that this practise ever took place here, but still. If there are malevolent spirits lurking around the forest, I don’t blame them one bit for having mixed feelings about the whole situation.
1 The Forest's Reputation Precedes It
As we’ve seen, then, Aokigahara forest is a real conundrum of a place. It’s a wood that completely messes with all your electronics, except… it doesn’t, exactly. It’s a place of dark, dismal, foreboding silence, and a place of beautiful serenity. It is what you make of it, in the end.
Which, when you think about it, is the most unsettling fact of all about the forest. There’s something incredibly spiritual and uplifting about Aokigahara, if you choose to see it, but the stark opposite experience awaits if you do not. Will it ever shake that uncomfortable reputation? Perhaps not, but it certainly deserves to.
Resources: Quartz, Atlas Obscura, Buzzfeed, The Toronto Sun, It’s Your Japan, Mental Floss, The New York Times, Best Life Online, Mind Amuse, Mysterious Universe.