A few weeks ago, I was chatting with one of my students and, I’m not sure how, but the subject of Japan’s so-called “Suicide Forest” came up. I can’t remember what the exact context of the conversation was that led us to this, but it was one of those casual chats that sometimes finds a way of sticking in the brain like a fish-hook. Somewhere, at some point, I’d read about this place, or in some way had become aware of it, because what my student was telling me was vividly familiar to me. In hindsight, it’s probably no great shock that this conversation had triggered a memory – Aokigahara (also known as Jukai – the Sea of Trees) is second only to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge as the world’s most popular suicide site.
A bit of online digging revealed a wealth of largely sensationalist explorations into this place and its tragic history. So far, the only documentation that I’ve found which manages to retain any sense of dignity and respect is this one:
It is said that one of the key characteristics of Jukai is the sense of solitude or isolation which is evoked both by the dense trees blocking all external sounds and by the absence of wildlife. Despite being an area which is widely-documented, particularly online, it still appears to be a place which allows for great privacy.
To further add to Jukai’s dark mystique, the forest has a long association with Japanese mythology, and particularly with the yūrei who, it is said, often appear there during Japan’s “witching hour” (ushimitsudoki), 2-3am. The yūrei – or at least a variation of the concept – have appeared in modern culture, particularly in Japanese horror movies such as Ringu (Ring) or Ju-on (The Grudge). Traditionally, their appearance is of long, straight black hair and they wear white burial robes. It is thought that they are spirits, angry at having died in a violent manner, e.g. murder or suicide.
All of this has inspired me to compose a piece – or rather, series of pieces – based around Jukai and the so-called witching hour. The work will be an hour-long series of ambient ‘responses’ exploring moments of calm, solitude, distress, tension, horror, self-reflection and resolution.
It’s important to say that, despite a great yearning, I have yet to visit Jukai. At the moment, all I have to go on is my own life experience and research. These pieces are personal ‘responses’ to (my present understanding of) a place and a phenomenon.
Here is the first response:
More to follow soon.