Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Functional Traveller: A journey into Aokigahara

January 20, 2016 by Sera Down, contributing writer

With the advent of a terribly inaccurate Hollywood film, and a more respectfully documented Vice short, I thought the time was right to explore a Japanese topic that many people are curious about: Aokigahara, also known as the Suicide Forest.

I recently went there with a friend under the premise of an anthropological expedition.

This is a real location of serious and solemn nature. It is not a cheap thrill, a spooky attraction in which one may provoke spirits and mystify their friends.

Hundreds of people travel here every year to return their physical vessel to nature, the earth swallowing their viscera, leaving behind only material mementos and memories.

The Functional Traveller is an ongoing column in Nexus.

The Functional Traveller is an ongoing column in Nexus.

Step off the trail only a few metres and traces of these now ethereal beings are scattered amongst the moss alongside decaying bouquets of flowers.

The forest lies between two popular cave attractions connected by a main trail. While these two points are often crowded with tourists and families, no one walks this trail; fresh dustings of undisturbed autumn leaves over loose pumice are evidence of this. The entrances of the trail are hidden behind tollbooths, which have a small window so that the park rangers inside may monitor who enters with calculating glances. They do not follow, however, leaving patrons the freedom to decide in which state they wish to exit.

The trail is winding and overgrown, melting into the flora at the seams. The earth beyond this margin is doughy and unstable; fertile soil and rust-tone pine nettles thinly veil crevices between thick varicose veins of Japanese cedars. What little wind passes through the densely woven wood agitates the loosely anchored foliage, trunks moaning as though exhaling in relief for those who have passed beneath them.

Ultimately, the forest is silent, with no fauna penetrating the solemn respiration of Aokigahara.

A sweet, putrid scent of decay is carried on these breathy winds, a reminder that beyond the tails of snaking plastic tape asphyxiating the trunks of equally twisted natural monuments lie the remnants of lives concluded.

Aokigahara is oppressively poignant in its existence. The soil, rich with volcanic minerals and human decomposition, nurtures the natural tombstones of trees that contort in a tableau of agony embodied. There is no fear here, only pardon for the weary.

It is for this that it remains the principal site for suicide.

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