Mount Fuji.. Symbol of Japan. This unique shaped active volcano erupted two times. Increasing the height of this mountain up to 3,776m. Making it Japan’s tallest mountain. Mt Fuji hike in Summer is very popular. People line up for the summit for hours. But my objective was not to climb the mountain but to visit something Fuji created! Each time Fuji erupted the lava spread in the near by area making absolutely stunning lava caves.
(I do not have maps for this hike. If you plan to visit, go in a big group, it’s very easy to get lost. Hike itself is not at all challenging. Just a walk in the forest. Entering into few caves can be difficult without ropes and harness. We stayed in a campsite called Motosuko. Nice Fuji view.)
A lava cave is a cave formed through volcanic processes, more properly termed volcanic cave. Inside the cave, you can see stalactite and ropy-lava rock which were formed when the lava was exposed to air and got solid emitting gases. The three days long trip was going to be all about finding these caves! We were all geared up with ropes, helmets etc. This was going to my first caving experience. Doing that in Fuji’s caves was really special. This area also has slightly unfortunate reputation… you may have guessed it from the title of this page..
All the caves I wanted to visit were hidden in the forest called Aokigahara Jukai roughly translated ‘Sea of Trees’. Resting in Mount Fuji’s shadow this forest is shrouded by death, the world’s second most popular suicide location after the Golden Gate Bridge. Since the 1950s, Japanese businessmen have wandered in, and at least 500 of them haven’t wandered out, at an increasing rate of between 10 and 30 per year. Japanese spiritualists believe that the suicides committed in the forest have been generating paranormal activity and preventing many who enter from escaping the forest’s depths. Worst of all is the common experience of compasses rendering uselessly by the rich deposits of magnetic iron due to volcanic soil this was also experienced by me. Due to the vastness of the forest, once inside it is difficult to find the way back from this “Sea of Trees,”. So the police have mounted signs “Your life is a precious gift from your parents, please consult the police before you decide to die!”. This still does not deter determined people from committing suicide in this dense forest. Annually about 70 corpses are found by volunteers who clean the woods. Japanese authorities discontinued publishing exact suicide numbers in order to avoid making the place even more popular. People who visit to take their lives just do not consider the impact of the suicides on the locals and forest workers. Although the forest is very beautiful there’s nothing beautiful about dying in there. Forest workers have it even worse. They not only have to carry the corpses down from forest but also must accompany all through the night as it is believed that it’s bad luck for the ghost of the victim if left alone. Their spirits are said to scream through the night and bodies will move on their own.
Due to all this the government has stopped publishing the more detailed maps of the area. Although the latest maps have big marked paths. It does not have all the caves listed. First day we visited the caves which were for tourists. These caves in olden times were used as a refrigerator. It was May, very hot outside but inside there was ice everywhere. Caves opened for tourist were not bad but definitely cannot be compared with the ones we visited later. A friend had few old maps dating back to 80’s, on which some caves were marked perfectly.
Finding them was a task. When you start walking further inside that forest. It is just difficult to navigate. The tree tops cover the sky preventing sunlight from reaching the ground. The entire ground just has these carpets of moss. So basically, you look anywhere and everywhere its green and look exactly the same. I have visited few forests but this was the greenest one.
Thanks to the big group we did not get lost while finding the caves. When I first heard caving, I thought caves would be shallow. But these were tunnels! The longest one was almost 800m. Shapes varied from square, triangle, round. The rock was very soft and texture showed hardened droplets of age old lava, which was fascinating.
Last day on our way back we missed our bus. The frequency is pretty bad as not many people visit. We decided to divide and hitchhike. Got a ride till main road. It was already 8. We could see the cars but no one would stop at that hour. The road had street lights but on both sides I could just feel the Sea of Trees.. My mind started wandering.. I was thinking about the summer vacations spent at grandmother’s place in western India. My grandmother was a simple Indian lady, skeptical about the spirits. If at all we got permission to visit near by beach we HAD to return before sunset. At night we would get to listen to the horror stories from uncle. Those stories would sometimes send chills in my spine and I would just hide in my blanket waiting eagerly for the sunrise! Walking in Aokigahara at night brought back all those memories. In the pitch dark and eerie silence you start listening to every tiny sound, notice every single vague shadow and make assumptions on what could it be!
Putting all efforts in not looking in the woods kept walking. Our footsteps almost echoed as we walked.. after 9, not a single car.. ‘just around the corner’ my friend said that 3rd time in last 50 minutes. By now I knew that he’s just saying it to cheer me up and campsite is definitely not near by.
May be it’s all in mind but when you walk through such an environment you feel something/someone is right behind you. That feeling cannot be compared with any other…..
…..We did not get any ride at that hour. But fortunately we were outside the woods. After about 2 hours reached the campsite had dinner and waited for the sunrise.
Next day, I left with so many memories about Aokigahara.. The caves were definitely worth all the efforts and the beauty of that forest is very unique but I wonder if I would really visit again.
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