Lines of Jukai
Many tourists have their eyes set on Mount Fuji the moment they step off the plane, and why not? After all, at nearly 4000 metres, it is Japan’s highest mountain, inspiring great pieces of art like ukiyo-e artist Hosukai’s “The Great Wave off Kanagawa”.
I don’t know what your stance on balance is, but I believe that behind every beauty lies a beast. In that same vein, beneath Mount Fuji’s snowy, dreamy exterior lies the haunting, gravely Aokigahara Forest (a.k.a. Jukai or Sea of Trees). Another name for it is: “Suicide Forest”.
This is where many go to take their lives.
What if the last steps of a resigned being could be retraced, by means of a line of string stretched from tree to tree, and as your fingers run through its material, the contents of his life spread themselves across your mind, just like his physical belongings laid inconspicuously on the damp ground below his hanging corpse.
Although the following tale is fictitious, the struggle is real.
A man enters the Aokigahara seeking answers, or just a mere directional nudge.
I see things in blurry bits and pieces, but the memories of Jukai will follow me into eternity. I remember standing at the entrance of the forest, if you can call it an entrance. One minute you are outside, and then it swallows you whole.
It was a beautiful sight – a myriad of lush green and brown casting a mystical shade of tranquillity by the foot of Mount Fuji. I sometimes wonder if the multitude of tourists who flock the vicinity will ever find out that where many come to take a whiff of fresh spring air, is where many others breathe their last. It is a thing of ironic beauty – an equalised divide between joy and sorrow; the flip side of a coin.
Perhaps that is why so many choose to die in the embrace of the Aokigahara. Eyes closed, awaiting what comes after; Mother Nature’s way of reassurance. “Hush, child, for it will all be over,” she whispers. So many people laden with emotional baggage, the trees sag and bend under the enormous weight, the air heavy with regret. So many people come here to die.
People like me.
Where do I even begin? How do I start? Never written a diary entry all my life; always used to carry the pain on my own shoulders, like any honourable man would. Sometimes, it seems that the Japanese obsession of honour will one day be its own undoing, but sometimes it offers an ounce of pride and dignity to a dying man devoid of anything to ever be proud of. Today is one of those days.
Every suicide note is laden with “what ifs” and “if onlys”. Every sentence a stroke from a brush painting a grim picture. Lost a loved one.., couldn’t cope.., saddled with debt.., the list goes on. Sometimes I can’t but laugh at the fact that so many take great pains to plan the perfect suicide; the same planning and determination that could have kept them going. Yet here I am, another number in the rising statistic. I suppose you don’t need to bear the emotional burden listening to my story. Just follow my journey.
I want to tell you an interesting fact about the blue string that I have chosen to tie from skinny tree to skinny tree, all the way to my tent, perhaps even further. Blue reminds me of many things. What was that Euro-pop song that I’ve always had on replay.. Blue, by Eiffel 65. “I’m blue, da-ba-dee da-ba-daa…”. There’s more: “Blue are the words I say and what I think. Blue are the feelings that live inside me.”. It’s a little odd to recall things like these in a solemn place, but sometimes there need not be a romantic precursor to a death, you know. You just think of the things you will miss, nothing more, nothing less.
There is another reason I chose the colour blue. It was her. All you need to know is that she was a beautiful woman. Forget about her name, or her occupation, but you cannot forget her striking features – her sharp nose and her piercing eyes. But her eyes, how they made my knees weak.
They were perfect, and they were a shade of radiant blue.
I wonder how many people like me are taking their final journeys today. Deeper and deeper into the forest they go. I wonder if they will be writing suicide notes as well; a multitude of dejected people, hoping to leave a permanent voice behind, a fleeting reminder of the worth they never thought they would have. Be it scraps of paper, or thin, coloured strings, both tell the story of a dying man, inside and out. And if you have run your fingers across my stringed journey here, you may have felt how I felt, coming to this point.
It’s hard to really express how I’m feeling now, with so many thoughts concurrently running through my mind. It’s also strange that I’ve been writing so much all this time, but you’ll probably never find out if I’ve had a normal family, or if I’ve had a job, or what my hobbies even are.
It has been 2 days and 17 hours since I had started thinking through things in this old tent. But it’s dawning on me now that I really only needed a place to write. If there’s one thing that I’ve truly loved, it’s writing: the act of flushing out my tangled emotions onto a piece of paper. And the more I write, the clearer I think. Now that I’ve come to the end of the journal, so too, have I reached the end of my train of thought.
No matter who you are when you read this, I’m not going to tell you if you should fight to live on or to just end it all. I believe that you’ll figure it out eventually.
There’s a reason why I’ve never bothered telling you more about myself. Each year, 100 bodies are found deep in the heart of the Aokigahara. Most remain unknown, just another statistic gone with the wind and hands of time; another name erased. Why should I be any different?
Perhaps, had circumstances be different, we would be chatting over tea. Or perhaps we still are, through the words of this letter.
I should get going now.