Dark and quiet in the shadow of Mt. Fuji, some call Aokigahara Forest Japan’s perfect place—for suicide.
The dense woods have long been associated with death and demons in the country’s mythology, but now Dutch photographer Pieter Ten Hoopen has captured the forest on film in a quest to understand its morbid allure.
Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the industrialized world: For the past 14 years, more than 30,000 people have killed themselves annually. That’s one suicide every 15 minutes.
Police have also been criticized for being slow to react to what some commentators have called a “nationwide embrace of death” in Japan.
Traces of this death trend are visible in Aokigahara, where the trees grow out of tough, volcanic rock and so many suicides occur that officials conduct sweeps to clean up the leftover pill bottles, diaries, shoes, clothes and—of course—corpses that are often found on the forest floor
It’s hard to navigate the forest, not far from Tokyo, which has become the world’s second most popular place to commit suicide after San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.
So they don’t get lost inside, many visitors leave tape on the ground to mark their traces.
Those who come contemplating suicide often tie white ropes to the trees, just in case they change their minds and need to find their way back.