The Suicide Forest is a vast forest stretching a 35 square km radius at the base of Japan’s Mt Fuji. This is where thousands of people have made their last journey in life to end their existence among the trees. In Japan, suicide is not viewed in the same way as it is in the Western world; you will not go to hell or be forever scorned. In Japanese culture, suicide is often seen as an honorable end, dating back to ritual death among the Samurai and these days is seen as a morally responsible action, to bring less shame on one’s family.
Navigating around the forest was hard work; twisted roots and gnarly lava rocks with leaves strewn across them were like traps waiting for a foot to disappear down the unseen holes beneath. Rain made everything slippery and with ten kg of camera equipment on my back, it wasn’t an easy trek we walked for 20km over two days but the discomfort was always forgotten as adrenaline built each time we found a ribbon that often lead to a body, a camp or the possibility of a body.
We came across various camps around the forest, where people would have sat living their last hours before making an end to their lives normally by hanging or drug overdose. On the second day, we found a man’s camp and a wallet with £3000 worth of yen inside. I didn’t touch it through respect for the dead but we spent a good three hours looking for him and were getting very close. But the light was fading fast and the forest was not a place to be after dark.
The day after the trip I couldn’t stop thinking about that man; in those three hours inside the forest as we searched for a dead man, we had built our own stories for him, from finding his money, his bag with clothes and the cigarettes he smoked before his last breath. My friend and I decided to return and once again try to find him. We didn’t but we handed his wallet to the police and from a prescription, they found his family. This was somewhat closure for us as we allowed his relatives to know what had happened to him and they were very thankful.