Inside Japan's 'suicide forest'

A controversial video by YouTube s...

Posted: Jan 3, 2018 7:57 PM
Updated: Jan 3, 2018 7:57 PM

A controversial video by YouTube star Logan Paul shows what appears to be a body hanging from a tree in Japan's Aokigahara forest, known throughout the country for the suicides that happen there.

The video sparked wide backlash for its allegedly tone-deaf treatment of suicide and mental health in a country where suicide rates are higher than most in the developed world.

Logan Paul was blasted for a posting video of a man hanging from a tree in Japan's "suicide forest"

Suicide rates in Japan are higher than most in the developed world

Paul posted a written apology on Monday and a video apology online Tuesday after intense criticism on social media.

The place where he filmed the video, the Aokigahara forest, "is known as a place where many people choose to commit suicide," said Karen Nakamura, a professor of anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley, who studies disability and other social movements in contemporary Japan.

"It's not surprising to find a body there," she said. "But there's a degree of outrage that a foreigner would choose to trivialize or monetize it through YouTube."

The 'suicide forest'

The Aokigahara forest, also called the Sea of Trees, sits right along the edge of Mt. Fuji, roughly a two-hour drive west of Tokyo.

At the entrance of the forest, a sign reminds visitors that "life is a precious gift" from their parents.

"Quietly think once more about your parents, siblings or children," the sign says in Japanese. "Please don't suffer alone, and first reach out."

Aokigahara's dark reputation has been around for decades. In a popular 1960 novel by Japanese author Seicho Matsumoto, a heroine heads into the forest to take her own life. More recently, in a 2016 American horror film, "The Forest," a woman goes there looking for her twin sister, who mysteriously disappeared in the woods.

Over 100 people who were not from the area surrounding Aokigahara committed suicide there between 2013 and 2015, according to a local government report. Countrywide, suicides totaled roughly 24,000 people in 2015 alone, according to the country's Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. These numbers do not include attempted suicides.

Experts have long considered why some choose to come to the forest to die. Three decades ago, a Japanese psychiatrist who interviewed a handful of Aokigahara suicide survivors wrote that a key reason was that "they believed that they would be able to die successfully without being noticed."

The psychiatrist, Dr. Yoshitomo Takahashi, believed that movies and media reports may have also played a role. Some may have traveled to the forest from other provinces because they wanted to "share the same place with others and belong to the same group," he wrote.

Nakamura pointed to research by Emory University anthropologist Chikako Ozawa-de Silva on the trend of online suicide forums in Japan. According to Ozawa-de Silva, the internet provides an outlet for those seeking social connection, and who fear isolation, "to die with others."

Nakamura sees a potential parallel to the thought process surrounding the forest: "Many people have committed suicide at Aokigahara; thus you won't die alone."

'That's why I went there'

CNN previously interviewed one man who attempted to end his life in Aokigahara.

"My will to live disappeared," Taro, a middle-aged man who did not want to be identified fully, told CNN in 2009. "I'd lost my identity, so I didn't want to live on this earth. That's why I went there."

Taro bought a one-way ticket to the forest, having been fired from his job at an iron manufacturing company. He lost any sense of financial stability.

"You need money to survive," he said.

When he got to the forest, he cut his wrists, but the wounds were not fatal. He collapsed and nearly died from dehydration, starvation and frostbite but was found by a hiker and saved.

Over the years, there have been some attempts to curb suicides in the forest and nationally. Local authorities posted security cameras at the entrances of the forest, hoping to track those who walk inside, according to Imasa Watanabe of the Yamanashi Prefectural Government.

The local government also mentions other suicide prevention methods in the forest, such as raising the height of bridge rails, training volunteers to talk to potentially suicidal visitors, increasing police patrolling at the entrances of the forest and discouraging movies and TV shows that might promote the forest's reputation as a place to end one's life.

"Especially in March, the end of the fiscal year, more suicidal people will come here because of the bad economy," Watanabe previously told CNN. "It's my dream to stop suicides in this forest, but to be honest, it would be difficult to prevent all the cases here."

Suicide in Japan

Japan was ranked 26th globally among age-adjusted suicide rates in 2015, according to the World Health Organization. Overall, there were 15.4 suicides per 100,000 population, which breaks down to 9.2 for women and 21.7 for men.

That figure sits above most developed nations, including the United States (12.6), the United Kingdom (7.4) and Italy (5.4) but below several others, such as Belgium (16.1) and South Korea (24.1).

One study found suicide death rates to be on the decline in many peer nations from 1985 to 2010, except in Japan and South Korea, where rates increased by 20% and 280%, respectively.

Multiple analyses suggest a major impact in Japan was the economic crisis that struck the country in the late 1990s.

Other studies and government materials have cited a number of risk factors, including academic pressures, depression, overwork, financial struggles and unemployment.

"Suicide is an extremely complex phenomenon with multiple factors," including economic recession in Japan, Nakamura said. Beyond that, there's stigma around receiving mental health care, especially for men, and a greater tendency in Japan to view suicide as "a rational decision."

"One of the terms for suicide is 'jiketsu,' which means to decide for yourself," she added.

Research has shown that some forms of suicide are also seen as less acceptable in certain religious cultures -- but religion in Japan takes less of a hard line, Nakamura said. "Suicide is not a mortal sin as it is under Christianity."

Though suicide has historically been a taboo subject in Japan, according to the WHO, the Japanese government has responded since the 2000s with research and programs aimed at lowering the suicide rate across the country.

Some experts have called attention to cultural differences, saying that doctors need to be aware of them in order to offer mental health care that's inclusive of Japanese communities at home and abroad.

For example, Takahashi wrote about how American psychiatrists might learn to spot atypical depressive symptoms in certain Asian populations for whom mental illness is surrounded by stigma and who might be more reluctant to discuss their problems with therapists.

But when it comes to the now-viral YouTube video, the story is less about what sets Japan apart and more about how it's often perceived as "other" by Americans, like 22-year-old Paul, according to one anthropologist.

"His motivation to go to this particular spot is not an accident," said Allison Alexy, a cultural anthropologist at the University of Michigan who specializes in contemporary Japanese culture. "It is part and parcel of a larger American fascination" with Japan.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 501652

Reported Deaths: 10024
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34353540
DeSoto32162408
Hinds31977631
Jackson24508383
Rankin22015390
Lee15596235
Madison14597280
Jones13867243
Forrest13461252
Lauderdale11998317
Lowndes11065188
Lamar10522136
Pearl River9547237
Lafayette8557140
Hancock7740127
Washington7443160
Oktibbeha7147133
Monroe6787178
Warren6706176
Pontotoc6677104
Neshoba6642206
Panola6542131
Marshall6476135
Bolivar6323150
Union605794
Pike5824152
Alcorn5676102
Lincoln5439135
George497479
Scott473098
Tippah470381
Prentiss469182
Leflore4663144
Itawamba4640105
Adams4592119
Tate4592111
Copiah448792
Simpson4448116
Yazoo444887
Wayne440072
Covington429094
Sunflower4240105
Marion4232108
Coahoma4168107
Leake408688
Newton381779
Grenada3711108
Stone360664
Tishomingo360092
Attala331789
Jasper330165
Winston314691
Clay308977
Chickasaw301067
Clarke292594
Calhoun279447
Holmes267987
Smith264150
Yalobusha234547
Tallahatchie228251
Greene219449
Walthall218764
Lawrence213140
Perry205956
Amite205256
Webster203046
Noxubee186840
Montgomery179657
Jefferson Davis172243
Carroll169338
Tunica160039
Benton149239
Kemper141941
Choctaw133326
Claiborne132837
Humphreys129638
Franklin120328
Quitman106528
Wilkinson105139
Jefferson94734
Sharkey64220
Issaquena1937
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 820312

Reported Deaths: 15407
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1148731924
Mobile726221339
Madison52362697
Shelby37640350
Baldwin37266552
Tuscaloosa35120612
Montgomery34123740
Lee23540246
Calhoun22236488
Morgan20958378
Etowah19838500
Marshall18381304
Houston17394412
St. Clair16078339
Cullman15468293
Limestone15354199
Elmore15271286
Lauderdale14323295
Talladega13851283
DeKalb12664261
Walker11221370
Blount10207176
Autauga10048148
Jackson9877184
Coffee9211191
Dale8904185
Colbert8877201
Tallapoosa7093198
Escambia6778134
Covington6715183
Chilton6648162
Russell637559
Franklin5969105
Chambers5612142
Marion5010127
Dallas4979200
Pike4796106
Clarke475884
Geneva4575127
Winston4522103
Lawrence4327117
Bibb425386
Barbour357876
Marengo338390
Monroe331664
Randolph329864
Butler326796
Pickens316584
Henry312866
Hale311688
Cherokee302960
Fayette294180
Washington251651
Cleburne247760
Crenshaw245375
Clay243368
Macon234863
Lamar224847
Conecuh186353
Coosa180340
Lowndes175464
Wilcox168939
Bullock151744
Perry138940
Sumter133238
Greene126744
Choctaw88527
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Clear
59° wxIcon
Hi: 71° Lo: 47°
Feels Like: 59°
Columbus
Clear
59° wxIcon
Hi: 72° Lo: 47°
Feels Like: 59°
Oxford
Partly Cloudy
55° wxIcon
Hi: 69° Lo: 44°
Feels Like: 55°
Starkville
Partly Cloudy
62° wxIcon
Hi: 72° Lo: 48°
Feels Like: 62°
High pressure leaves our area overnight and allows room for some low pressure and a cold front to move into our area on Wednesday. This will bring some good chances for some rain and isolated thunderstorms into our area during later portions of our Wednesday.
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather