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Home > About Yamanashi > Topics > Yamanashi Travelog: Sunlight and Peace at Aokigahara

Yamanashi Travelog: Sunlight and Peace at Aokigahara

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By Aimee Chen

 

On a clear, windy day in mid-December, I went to Aokigahara Forest, located at the foot of Mt. Fuji in Yamanashi Prefecture.

The particular word used for forest here (and it’s not any commoner word for “forest” either) translates into “sea of trees.” It’s a beautiful name. Like the forest’s lava-filled ground, the wide “sea” of trees, and the roots growing gnarled, there is a sense of the quiet and serene sublime.

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But before I wax poetic about Aokigahara, let me address the big elephant in the room.

Aokigahara Forest is the no. 2 suicide spot in the world.

The no. 1 is the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, USA. I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for four years, so I’ve been there. Lived on a hill where I could see it every day, where its existence was unquestioned, where it just is. Is beautiful, especially at night. Is bright reddish orange, despite it’s moniker as “golden” (I believe it’s officially termed “International Orange”). Is a tourist spot. Is historically, culturally, and aesthetically important.

So like the Golden Gate Bridge, Aokigahara deserves recognition as something more than just a place of death. It doesn’t mean that we should bury this other side of Aokigahara’s history, but that’s not all there is. There is so much more to this beautiful, luminous forest than that.

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Let’s start with the “komorebi.” There is no singular word that is equivalent in English, but it translates roughly into “sunlight filtered through the trees.” The dappled sunlight waves and quivers in the wind, lights up the leaves and moss and literally dances. Saturated in this gentle sunshine and greenness, I felt supremely at peace.

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Then there’s the moss. It’s a wet, living color. This intense, brilliant green, like rice paddies. It’s growing all over the trees, branches, everything. I came here in the midst of winter, where all the leaves have fallen and many forests that are a rich green in summer turn into a grey, almost ashy color during winter. Yet this sea forest still maintained its color, fueled by this fuzzy, soft moss that defies all seasons.

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And the roots. Because the floor is made of volcanic rock from back when Mt. Fuji used to erupt, it is difficult for the trees to penetrate beneath the rock. These roots erupt from the tree and grow tenaciously across the forest floor, roots entwining with roots, one tree to another.   

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The moss grows even on top of the volcanic rock.

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Here is a comparison of a whole acorn and two acorns eaten clean by birds. Notice the difference in size! The acorn on the right is often jokingly called an "ebi fry" for its resemblance to fried shrimp.  

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Finally, the peace. Aokigahara has a welcoming quiet from the hustle and bustle of city life—is a contemplative, evocative place full of light.