Japan is generally well-known for its colorful and interesting culture, advanced technology, and beautiful natural endowments.

However, this world also has an enchanted and very dark side. The vast forest of Aokigahara, covering over 7,500 acres, lies at the foot of Mount Fuji and the trees grow so densely that locals refer to it as the Sea of Trees (Jukai).

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The place itself dates back to 1200 years ago; following a huge volcanic eruption, the created volcanic soil, being rich in minerals, provided lush vegetation in the area. At the same time, the gases erupting from the magma created a number of caves that are surrounding the mountain and according to researchers their number is estimated around 80.

The Fugaku Wind Cave 「富岳風穴」and Narusawa Ice Cave 「鳴沢氷穴」are amongst the most famous and frequently visited tourist attractions in Aokigahara. Discovered in ancient times, people realized that the cold caverns were excellent places for keeping seeds and silkworms. Nowadays, visitors can still see the boxes that were once stored deep within the caves. The gigantic ice columns are also fascinating and highly popular.

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The area is one of the oldest and most untouched places in Japan. There is something so inexplicably dark and frightening about the Aokigahara forest and it is hardly surprising that a number of local myths and urban legends have grown up around it. It is said that in the feudal era many families abandoned their elderly relatives and infants here during times of famine, and drought. This practice was known as ubasute, “abandoning an old woman” or oyasute, "abandoning a parent". It is widely believed that many people have died in this forest and locals began to think the trees are haunted by evil spirits and demons that lurk in the shadows.

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Sadly, the forest’s tragic tales do not the end here. Today, it is the second most popular suicidal place in the world. (The first is the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, USA.)

Each year dozens of people come to this cursed land to end their lives. Two books are held responsible for this tendency. One is Matsumoto Seicho’s Tower of Wave (Nami no Tou) in which the protagonist lovers commit double suicide under the trees of the Aokigahara forest. The other book is Wataru Tsurumi’s The Complete Manual of Suicide (Kanzen Jisatsu Manyuaru), describing these woods as “the perfect place to die”.

The number of suicides varies from year to year depending on the country’s economy and the unemployment rate, which are believed to be the main triggers. According to recent data, in 2013 150 people died there, but in previous years this number was even higher and it exceeded 200. Local authorities put up warning signs throughout the forest with messages such as “Your life is a valuable gift from your parents,” “Think of your siblings and your children, too!” and “Don’t try to manage your problems alone – ask for advice!” Moreover, local volunteers patrol the forests every day looking for “suspicious” individuals. They have years of experience to recognize the distinction between tourists and the lost souls who never intend to leave the woods again.

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Legends surrounding Aokigahara tell of yurei (ghosts of deceased people) who roam the forest. But because they died out of misery, anger, and other negative emotions, many of them have turned malevolent. There are some stories of people being possessed by yurei who either tell their stories or proceed in trying to harm the host body. The forest itself seems to be watching the living, and it is thought to be the purgatory for these lost spirits. Many believe that, because of the high number of suicides, the trees absorbed so much negative energy themselves that they  “refuse” to allow people who wander off the tracks to ever leave their empire.

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Locals warn visitors that anyone who strays off from the beaten path should expect to be lost within minutes. They would find themselves in a dense, dark, and eerily quiet endless labyrinth of trees, where neither a compass nor a GPS will work. The scientific reason for this phenomenon is that all electronic devices are being rendered useless by the rich deposits of magnetic iron in the area’s volcanic soil.

Aokigahara’s trees home to a strange and dark world, where life and death, beauty and horror create a unique and mysterious atmosphere.

Finally, the most important advice for anybody who plans to go there:

“Don’t wander off the beaten path!”

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The sources of photos, in order of appearance:

http://strawhatbackpacker.com; https://c2.staticflickr.com; http://www.yokoso-japan.jp;
http://1.bp.blogspot.com; http://www.toothpicnations.co.uk; http://assets.atlasobscura.com;
https://seattlekifujin.files.wordpress.com; http://mysteriousuniverse.org/