Japan Travel: Aokigahara

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Aokigahara

Photo credits: Ko Sasaki for The New York Times 

Jukai, il mare di alberi in cui affogare la propria anima

Ai piedi del Monte Fuji, nata dall’eruzione del vulcano Nagaoyama nell’864 d.C., sorge Aokigahara (青木ヶ原) più conosciuta con il nome di Jukai (樹海, mare d’alberi).  È una fitta foresta di 35 km² costituita da caverne e una intricata vegetazione di cipressi, querce e arbusti tra cui il fiore della neve giapponese. La sua particolare conformazione non permette il passaggio del vento e dei raggi solari donandole un aspetto spettrale e silenzioso. In inverno la fitta nebbia che la circonda ne vieta l’accesso ai visitatori incapaci persino di trovarne l’entrata.

Quella di Aokigahara è una triste storia poichè lasciare i sentieri ufficiali significa perdersi nella sua immensa struttura labirintica. Coloro che solitamente abbandonano il percorso stabilito hanno una sola intenzione: il suicidio. Non è difficile quindi imbattersi in cartelli sia in lingua giapponese che in inglese che cercano di dissuadere le persone dalle macabre intenzioni.

“La tua vita è un dono prezioso ricevuto dai tuoi genitori” 

“Per favore, rivolgiti alla polizia o un medico prima di commettere suicidio“

“Non restare da solo con i tuoi problemi, parlane!”

Photo credits: Google images

La Foresta Dei Suicidi

Dal 1950 ad oggi, le statistiche di Jukai danno i brividi: dai 30 ai 105 suicidi l’anno. Nel 1970 il governo giapponese decise di costituire una speciale ronda annuale, composta da ufficiali di polizia, volontari e giornalisti. Questa ronda è addetta alla ricerca e alla rimozione dei cadaveri, ma ciò non esclude la terribile possibilità di imbattersi in scheletri e corpi putrefatti camminando per la foresta. Spesso è possibile trovare anche degli Ema: delle tavolette sulle quali sono scritte maledizioni contro coloro che spinsero le persone a togliersi la vita.

Allontanarsi dal sentiero ufficiale vuol dire anche incontrare nastri colorati tesi tra gli alberi, e questo perchè non tutte le persone che si inoltrano nella foresta hanno deciso di morire. Alcuni vogliono semplicemente riflettere e questi fili sono necessari per ritrovare la strada nel caso si decidesse di vivere. Seguire quei percorsi porta quasi sempre a qualcosa però: qualche oggetto, una tenda abbandonata e, nel peggiore dei casi, al corpo senza vita di chi ha fatto la scelta sbagliata.

C’è un’altra particolarità che rende Aokigahara inquietante e misteriosa: gli smartphone e tutti i dispositivi elettronici smettono di funzionare all’interno della boscaglia e le bussole impazziscono. Ritrovare il nord è impossibile. Tutto questo è causato dall’alto tasso di magnetite, il minerale con le più forti proprietà magnetiche.

Photo credits: Google images

Gli spiriti di Jukai

Nei tempi antichi si raccontava che in essa vi risiedessero i Kodama (木魂), gli spiriti degli alberi che imitano le voci dei defunti. Poiché essi possiedono poteri sovrannaturali, abbattere un albero ritenuto dimora di un kodama è considerato fonte di sventura. I giapponesi usano quindi marcare i tronchi di quegli alberi con una corda sacra detta Shimenawa. Al contrario, vedere un kodama è reputato un buon auspicio perché significa che il luogo è vitale e pieno di energia positiva.

Ma i Kodama non sono i soli esseri che si dice popolino questo luogo. La foresta sembra infatti essere infestata da veri e propri fantasmi, gli Yurei. Il termine si compone del kanji yū (幽 “flebile”, “evanescente”, ma anche “oscuro”) e rei (霊 “anima” o “spirito”). Gli Yurei incarnano le anime dei defunti morti di morte violenta, perchè suicidi o perchè assassinati. Incapaci di lasciare il mondo dei vivi e raggiungere in pace l’aldilà hanno bisogno di portare con sé altre vite.

Photo credits: Google images

Romanzi e Film nella cultura di massa

Nel 1960 venne pubblicato Nami no tō (波の塔) “Tower of Waves” di Seichō Matsumoto, che parla di due amanti che si tolgono la vita nella foresta. Jukai viene descritta da Matsumoto come “la più bella foresta abbandonata e selvaggia che esiste.. Un posto perfetto per morire in segreto”.

Negli anni più recenti Hollywood ha dato vita a una serie di pellicole. Nel 2013 esce “Grave Halloween” in cui una giovane donna si reca a Aokigahara con degli amici per ritrovare il corpo della madre, una biologa scomparsa nella foresta. Nel 2015 viene alla luce “La foresta dei sogni”, diretto da Gus Van Sant, la cui trama vede un uomo statunitense che si reca a Aokigahara per togliersi la vita e lì incontra un uomo giapponese con le stesse intenzioni. Mentre nel 2016 invade le sale cinematografiche l’horror-thriller “Jukai – La foresta dei suicidi” in cui una ragazza viaggia fino a Aokigahara per ritrovare la sorella gemella di cui non ha più notizie.[:en]

Aokigahara

Photo credits: Ko Sasaki for The New York Times 

Jukai, the sea of trees in which the soul drowns

At the foot of Mount Fuji, born from the volcanic eruption of Mount Nagao in 864 C.E., lies Aokigahara (青木ヶ原) best know with the name of Jukai (樹海, sea of trees).  It is a thick forest that extends for 35 km² and that is made of caves and a maze-like vegetation with its cypresses, oaks and shrubs, including the Japanese snow flower. Its particular conformation prevents wind and solar rays from entering, giving it a spectral and silent appearance. In winter the thick fog that surrounds it forbids access to visitors who are even unable to find the entrance.
That of Aokigahara is a sad story because leaving the official paths means getting lost in its immense labyrinthine structure. Those who usually abandon the established path have only one intention: suicide. Due to this, it is not difficult to come across sign boards in both Japanese and English that try to dissuade people with macabre intentions.

“Your life is a precious gift from your parents” 

“Please consult police or a doctor before you decide to die“

“Do not keep it to yourself, talk about your troubles”

Photo credits: Google images

The suicide forest

Statistics about Jukai, that go from 1950 up to today, will give you chills: from 30 to 105 suicides a year. In 1970 the Japanese government decided to set up a special annual patrol made of police officers, volunteers and journalists. This patrol is committed to searching and removing corpses, but this does not exclude the terrible possibility of running into skeletons and rotten bodies when walking through the forest. It is also possible to find Ema: wooden plaques on which suicides wrote their curses against those who forced them into taking their own lives.

Stepping away from the official path also means meeting colorful thread stretched between the trees, and this is because not all the people who enter the forest have decided to die. Some just want to reflect and these threads are necessary to find the way in case someone decides to live. However, following them almost always leads to something: some objects, an abandoned tent and, in the worst case, the lifeless body of someone who made the wrong choice.

There is another peculiarity that makes Aokigahara disturbing and mysterious: smartphones and all electronic devices stop working in the brush and the compasses go haywire. Finding the north is impossible. All this is caused by the high rate of magnetite, the mineral with the strongest magnetic properties.

Photo credits: Google images

The spirits of Jukai

In ancient times it was said that Kodama (木 魂) resided there, spirits of the trees that imitate the voices of the dead. Since they possess supernatural powers, cutting down a tree that is believed to house a kodama is considered a source of misfortune. The Japanese therefore use to mark the trunks of those trees with a sacred rope called Shimenawa. On the contrary, seeing a Kodama is considered a good omen because it means that the place is alive and full of positive energy.

But Kodama are not the only beings who are said to inhabit this place. The forest seems to be infested with real ghosts, the Yūrei. The term is made up of yū (幽 “flebile”, “evanescent”, but also “obscure”) and rei (霊 “soul” or “spirit”). A Yūrei embodies the soul of those who died of violent death, because they committed suicide or because they were murdered. Unable to leave the world of the living, to reach the afterlife in peace they need to bring other lives with them.

Photo credits: Google images

Novels and Films in the mass culture

In 1960 Nami no tō (波 の 塔) “Tower of Waves” by Seichō Matsumoto was published, a book that speaks of two lovers who take their lives in the forest.  Matsumoto describes Jukai as “the most beautiful abandoned and wild forest that exists. A perfect place to die in secret”.

In recent years, Hollywood has created a series of films. In 2013, “Grave Halloween” came out, in which a young woman goes to Aokigahara with her friends to find her mother’s body, a biologist who had disappeared in the forest. “The sea of trees” directed by Gus Van Sant comes to light in 2015, and the plot sees an American man who goes to Aokigahara to take his own life and there meets a Japanese man with the same intentions. In 2016, the horror-thriller “Jukai – The Forest of Suicides” invades cinemas, in which a girl travels to Aokigahara to find her lost twin sister.

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Aokigahara

Photo credits: Ko Sasaki for The New York Times 

Jukai, the sea of trees in which the soul drowns

At the foot of Mount Fuji, born from the volcanic eruption of Mount Nagao in 864 C.E., lies Aokigahara (青木ヶ原) best know with the name of Jukai (樹海, sea of trees).  It is a thick forest that extends for 35 km² and that is made of caves and a maze-like vegetation with its cypresses, oaks and shrubs, including the Japanese snow flower. Its particular conformation prevents wind and solar rays from entering, giving it a spectral and silent appearance. In winter the thick fog that surrounds it forbids access to visitors who are even unable to find the entrance.
That of Aokigahara is a sad story because leaving the official paths means getting lost in its immense labyrinthine structure. Those who usually abandon the established path have only one intention: suicide. Due to this, it is not difficult to come across sign boards in both Japanese and English that try to dissuade people with macabre intentions.

“Your life is a precious gift from your parents” 

“Please consult police or a doctor before you decide to die“

“Do not keep it to yourself, talk about your troubles”

Photo credits: Google images

The suicide forest

Statistics about Jukai, that go from 1950 up to today, will give you chills: from 30 to 105 suicides a year. In 1970 the Japanese government decided to set up a special annual patrol made of police officers, volunteers and journalists. This patrol is committed to searching and removing corpses, but this does not exclude the terrible possibility of running into skeletons and rotten bodies when walking through the forest. It is also possible to find Ema: wooden plaques on which suicides wrote their curses against those who forced them into taking their own lives.

Stepping away from the official path also means meeting colorful thread stretched between the trees, and this is because not all the people who enter the forest have decided to die. Some just want to reflect and these threads are necessary to find the way in case someone decides to live. However, following them almost always leads to something: some objects, an abandoned tent and, in the worst case, the lifeless body of someone who made the wrong choice.

There is another peculiarity that makes Aokigahara disturbing and mysterious: smartphones and all electronic devices stop working in the brush and the compasses go haywire. Finding the north is impossible. All this is caused by the high rate of magnetite, the mineral with the strongest magnetic properties.

Photo credits: Google images

The spirits of Jukai

In ancient times it was said that Kodama (木 魂) resided there, spirits of the trees that imitate the voices of the dead. Since they possess supernatural powers, cutting down a tree that is believed to house a kodama is considered a source of misfortune. The Japanese therefore use to mark the trunks of those trees with a sacred rope called Shimenawa. On the contrary, seeing a Kodama is considered a good omen because it means that the place is alive and full of positive energy.

But Kodama are not the only beings who are said to inhabit this place. The forest seems to be infested with real ghosts, the Yūrei. The term is made up of yū (幽 “flebile”, “evanescent”, but also “obscure”) and rei (霊 “soul” or “spirit”). A Yūrei embodies the soul of those who died of violent death, because they committed suicide or because they were murdered. Unable to leave the world of the living, to reach the afterlife in peace they need to bring other lives with them.

Photo credits: Google images

Novels and Films in the mass culture

In 1960 Nami no tō (波 の 塔) “Tower of Waves” by Seichō Matsumoto was published, a book that speaks of two lovers who take their lives in the forest.  Matsumoto describes Jukai as “the most beautiful abandoned and wild forest that exists. A perfect place to die in secret”.

In recent years, Hollywood has created a series of films. In 2013, “Grave Halloween” came out, in which a young woman goes to Aokigahara with her friends to find her mother’s body, a biologist who had disappeared in the forest. “The sea of trees” directed by Gus Van Sant comes to light in 2015, and the plot sees an American man who goes to Aokigahara to take his own life and there meets a Japanese man with the same intentions. In 2016, the horror-thriller “Jukai – The Forest of Suicides” invades cinemas, in which a girl travels to Aokigahara to find her lost twin sister.
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