Recently I happened to visit Aokigahara forest, and by ‘visit’ I mean I explored and almost got lost inside it. I doubt I will ever return to that forest again, it truly pricked every hair on my body and left me feeling cold and empty; the place undoubtedly has a disturbed or haunted aura. I went there because I’m young, curious, hungry for adventure and thought ‘why not?’ I had read about it a year beforehand and was strangely fascinated by the place. A beautiful forest, where people choose to die… how bizarre, I thought. It seemed to me the ultimate manifestation of yin and yang, life and death, contained in a place I never in my wildest dreams would imagine existing. However, I never told myself I would go there, I had no interest in seeing the place for myself and was perfectly content just knowing about its existence. That is, until my friend Josh called me up last year and told me he had just booked a ticket to Japan, and that I should too. I bought the tickets that night. The tickets were cheap due to the tragic nuclear fallout, and I was always obsessed with Japanese culture, so it was a no brainer for me.
Once we arrived in Japan we took a deep inhale of Tokyo and were stoned by its presence. We quickly learnt from the locals that Nome Hodai were the only words of Japanese you needed to speak to have a great time, and a great time we had! We were stationed at a hostel in Asakusa and drifted freely from station to station: Asakusabashi, Akihabara, Ueno, Harajuku, Kamakura etc. We did this for a week maybe before we gravitated towards the bus stop and bought a ticket to Kawaguchiko station – the last stop before Mt. Fuji and Aokigahara. Everyone we had talked to about it prior shook their heads violently and warned us not to go there. It had a very bad rep. We (Josh, David and myself) stayed a night at a small ryokan guesthouse the night before we planned on making the trip into the forest. Kawaguchi was a ghost town – I’m not exaggerating for effect, there was no one outside, anywhere. The guesthouse was also empty, except for the woman looking after the place: a very friendly Japanese woman called Mana. I later found out she was a psychology major, which I found interesting as I study psychology and it’s a field rarely pursued and practiced in Japan (if it was, you’d think they wouldn’t have a forest to commit suicide in). I also, very coincidentally found out that she did her thesis on suicide, and yet she had never been to nor plans to visit the forest that lurked within eye sight from where we were chatting.
We spent a day here to explore the area, suss out the local food, and of course visit the serene Lake Kawaguchi, the most famous of the five Fuji lakes. We had planned on seeing Aokigahara the next day, but plans have a way of not working out, so we ended up postponing it for the day after. We were in no hurry as we weren’t traveling with an itinerary – the only way to travel. The day arrived and we walked to Kawaguchiko station and talked to an old lady at the bus ticket counter, we asked her for a map of the Mt Fuji Five Lakes area and she gave it to us cheerily. We then asked her how to get to Aokigahara and her face transformed. She looked at us sternly, as if she were trying to analyse our motives, and then after some silence (I don’t think she spoke much english) she drew a big circle on the map. We looked at it – it said Lake Saiko, we were confused: ‘No, we want to visit Aokigahara’ we declared. The lady nodded her head up and down rapidly and exclaimed ‘Yes, yes, Lake Psycho!’ (that’s actually how it’s pronounced!)
So we bought the tickets and went outside to have a cigarette while we waited for our bus. There was a big vending machine nearby that sold coffee/tea and soft drinks. I thought that was amazing. I decided to trade some yen coin (I had so many coins in my pocket that I was desperate to get rid of some) for a coffee as I needed a bit of a pick me up. It was freezing cold too, but I assumed the coffee would come out cold anyway. The can barreled down and when I went to pick it up it was hot! (I don’t know how you do it Japan, but you never stop amazing me). How can a vending machine keep half its drinks cold and half hot? My mind was blown, the coffee tasted good, my cigarette was smoked, and our bus was waiting patiently for us. The bus was supposed to arrive at 11:10 am but it arrived 20 minutes early, and was in a hurry to get us where we wanted to go. We were supposed to arrive at the Lava Cave by 11:44 but we probably got there about 11:20 am.
Below you will find a few photos of Lake Kawaguchiko and its small little town – this is where we had to stay to visit Aokigahara. Even though it was winter and the place was practically deserted, it was a very rewarding place to visit and the few locals we met were super friendly! One thing that was interesting with this town is that the street had 8 bit music playing constantly on loop, kind of like the town’s theme song or something – I couldn’t help but laugh when I entered the town and heard this music playing as it reminded me of entering a new town in Pokemon on the Gameboy!
When we finally left, Mana wished us well (after she was sure we weren’t going to kill ourselves) and packed us a lunch (thanks again!) It was freezing cold and I had to buy some gloves from a 7/11 before we got on the bus. The bus wouldn’t drop us off at the forest, but instead took us to a cave nearby, called the Lava Cave, which was sadly lacking in the lava department but still quite cool to check out. I kept a journal for the trip. The rest of my story will be taken from my entries.