Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Japan's Suicide Forest

Mount Fuji

Japanese culture differs from America's in several ways.  One is that there seems to be more acceptance of the idea of suicide.  This may trace to Japanese legends of warriors who committed seppuku and whose acts were regarded as heroic and morally honorable.

In any event, the rate of suicide in Japan is almost twice that in the United States; it rose during the difficult economic times in the 1990s and seems to have declined a bit in recent years.

In America, the most famous suicide attraction is the Golden Gate Bridge.  At least 1,600 desperately unhappy people have climbed over its low pedestrian railings and pitched themselves into the San Francisco Bay since the bridge opened in 1937.  A plan approved recently will set metal mesh under the bridge walkways to catch people on the way down and, it is hoped, to deter their self-desctructive efforts. (I posted about this on March 16 and June 29 of this year.)

Japan has its own suicide attraction, a very different one.  It is the Aokigahara Forest.

The forest is 14 square miles of trees at the base of Mount Fuji.  Fuji eruptions of the past showered the area with fertile soil where trees have sprouted in thick stands.  It is a deeply silent place with few trails.  It is easy to get lost in Aokigahara, inadvertently or on purpose.

Inside Aokigahara

Japanese lore has it that families in times past took very old relatives into the forest and left them there to die, and that angry spirits of the dead haunt Aokigahara.  Now about 100 people each year walk into the forest to die, most often by hanging or overdosing on drugs.

I recently found a video on Youtube that follows a man whose job for many years has been to find or, ideally, prevent suicides in Aokigahara.  The video is posted below, and I hope my readers will not be put off from watching it by the picture on its front, which does not reflect most of its content.

The man is thoughtful and careful and concerned about the people who wander into Aokigahara with self-destruction in mind.  The comment of his that moved me most was this:

"You think you die alone, but that's not true."

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