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Suicides stir up stink in Fuji's fearsome forest


Unswerving cyclist
14 Mar 2002
We certainly do not intend to indulge in the usual stereotypes of Japan, but macabre this story is worth reading...

Taken from Mainichi News, July 11, 2001:

Suicides stir up stink in Fuji's fearsome forest
By Ryann Connell
Staff Writer

Not another one," the restaurant worker says as she looks at the young girl, drenched, clad entirely in black and squatting for minutes in a telephone box. "Not that's there's anything unusual about her. It's pretty easy to tell the difference between tourists and suicide wanna-bes."
Aera (7/16) is at the foot of Mount Fuji on the borders of Aokigahara, a thick forest infamous across Japan for being a Mecca for those who want to take their own lives. It's a dark reputation that locals are sick of.

Consider the numbers. Up until the end of May this year alone, 16 bodies have been unearthed from the death forest. Locals discover most stiffs, but each year police and local crime-fighters launch a massive search to see how many corpses they can find among the copses. Over the past decade, the searches have turned up anything from three to 13 bodies. And though more people are going to Aokigahara to die -- 59 corpses were pulled out of the woods last year -- locals say they've had enough and won't carry out the searches anymore.

"We want people to forget Aokigahara for a little while," a local police officer says.

Aera notes that each time the annual search is carried out, it becomes hot news nationwide, a factor that seems to be pushing up the body count.

"Every time it's mentioned, it starts off a chain reaction and we end up with more suicides," a tourist industry employee says before producing a booklet that details why potential suicides -- taken into protective custody before they successfully killed themselves -- headed for Aokigahara. "Look. Nearly every case says they learned about the area from TV, newspapers or books. By ending the searches, we're throwing back the problem into society's face."

A man working in a souvenir store voices the frustrations felt by many locals.

"It bugs the hell out of me that the area's famous for being a suicide spot," he says. "There's nothing worse than seeing kids who come here go home with that impression."

Asuza Hayano, a writer who based a novel on the fearsome forest, also heaps scorn on those who top themselves in the area.

"Walking through Aokigahara uncharted is dangerous," he says. "But nature is supposed to be like that. Harsh. Aokigahara is filled with untouched natural beauty. To sully it by committing suicide is a slap in the face of the natural environment."

Despite being one of the few areas of untouched wilderness in a land largely concreted over, little beauty exists with the ritual that has earned Aokigahara its bizarre reputation.

"I've seen plenty of bodies that have been really badly decomposed, or been picked at by wild animals," a local police officer says. "There's nothing beautiful about dying in there."

Taxpayers have to foot the bill for burying the bodies found in Aokigahara, with remains interred in places specially built by the three Yamanashi Prefecture municipalities in which the forest falls. But it's these costs that prompted the local governments to push for an end to the searches for stiffs.

"We have to pay for the bodies to be disposed," says Takatoshi Kobayashi, mayor of Narusawa, one of three villages bearing the brunt of cleaning up the suicides. "Doing so keeps us away from the work we should be doing. (Suicides) ruin the area's name. We're all for an end to the searches."

So, too, are those who have to go out and look for the bodies.

"There's no need to go looking for people who've come out here to kill themselves," says a police officer who has taken part in a number of the probes. "The first time I went looking, I was pretty keen, but after that I just hung around behind the lead group and pretended to look busy. Besides, we've all got to go on the searches on our days off, so we're all glad they're not going to go on anymore."

Instead of the body-hunts, crime-fighters have turned their attention toward stopping people from committing suicide. Signs have been plastered across entrances to forest tracks urging people to refrain from killing themselves. And patrols have been set up to look for anybody with a forlorn appearance who may be considering the worst. The result of such moves was that 70 people were taken into protective custody in 2000, more than in any year of the past decade. But even the patrols have caused problems.

"Even without the searches, we've still got to find people to go on the patrols," says Fumimaro Tanaka, chief of the Kamikuishiki Fire Department, which is heavily involved in rescue work in Aokigahara. "I get the feeling the patrols are going to mean more work for the locals. And we haven't got many young people to help out. Something's gotta be done."

Narusawa Mayor Kobayashi echoes Tanaka's fears.

"We've got everything here that points to us being a death spot. Perhaps we should just promote ourselves as 'Suicide City' and encourage people to come here," the exasperated mayor tells Aera. "Of course, that's a joke. But we do have to do something to rectify the situation."
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The sea of trees

"Please consult the police before you decide to die!"

Remains of record 78 suicides found at Mt. Fuji last year

The remains of 78 people who are believed to have committed suicide were found in the Aokigahara forest at the foot of Mt. Fuji last year, a record high for the area known as a "suicide mecca," local police said Thursday. The Fuji-Yoshida Police Station in Yamanashi Prefecture said 83 people apparently intending to die in the area, called "the sea of trees," were also found and taken into protective custody last year. That was 20 more than in the previous year, the police said.

The previous record high for remains recovered in the area was 73 in 1998. About 80% of the remains found last year were those of men, the police said, attributing the high suicide rate to depression over loss of jobs or heavy debts. Of those taken into protective custody, 90% were from outside Yamanashi Prefecture, coming from places ranging from Hokkaido in the north to Kyushu in southwestern Japan. "Please consult the police before you (decide to) die," the Fuji-Yoshida Police Station advised those bent on suicide.

=> http://asia.news.yahoo.com/030206/kyodo/d7p0v8700.html
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