For decades, Japan has faced a serious social issue as it attempts to curb the rise in its suicide rate across the country. Five years ago, the records indicated that on average 70 people killed themselves on a daily basis, with around 70% of the victims being male.
Unlike some countries like India where taking one's own life was considered a punishable crime until recently, Japan has a long history of relating suicide to honour. The belief was popular especially among samurai warriors who would resort to Seppuku —the use of a short sword for self-disembowelment — to avoid dishonour or make up for past mistakes.
This dramatic take on the act, however, does not take into consideration the value for life and effect on the victim's family.
While the government has voiced strong opposition to the practice and continues to take measures to eradicate it, the conflicting cultural view is slow to change.
According to World Population Review, Japan ranked eighth in terms of crude suicide in 2017, below South Korea (first), Sri Lanka (fourth) and Kazakhstan (seventh).
One site that grew infamous for hosting such attempts is the Aokigahara forest. The site made headlines recently when YouTube video-blogger Logan Paul shared a video of his trip there. The clip was criticised widely because it featured a body hanging from a tree which many believed showed disrespect for the dead and made light of a serious issue.
Known as the Sea of Trees or suicide forest, Aokigahara forest has gained ill-repute as the second most popular place for suicides in the world. Located on the northwestern flank of Mount Fuji, the dense forest became especially popular following Seichō Matsumoto's 1961 novel Nami no Tō (Tower of Waves).
However, its legend can be traced back to Japanese mythology where it is considered a home to yūrei, the ghosts of the dead. Spiritualists believe these spirits enter the trees and create paranormal activity in the area.
The local government has tried to create various measures to prevent people from visiting the forest to end their lives, and authorities conduct patrols to help those in trouble.
The police have set up signboards at various spots in the hopes of deterring people from taking such steps. "Quietly think once more about your parents, siblings or children," one sign in Japanese reads. Another states: "Please don't suffer alone, and first reach out".
"I think people who commit suicide must have tremendous suffering," Susumu Maejima, deputy chief of the Fujiyoshida Police Department, told The New York Times. "That's why we are making efforts to prevent suicide."
Despite its tragic history, the Aokigahara forest is a beautiful location that still draws trekkers and vacationing families. The area is thick with cypress and pine trees along with moss-covered lava rocks created by Mount Fuji.
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