Mt Fuji & Aokigahara

When KF and I were planning our trip to Japan, I asked her if there was anywhere in particular she wanted to go, or anything she really wanted to see/do there. You’d be forgiven for thinking that I’m about to say Mt Fuji was top of the list (or on the list at all) but there was only one place she was set on going to, and that wasn’t it.

Well, not exactly. The place she wanted to visit is actually on Mt Fuji, so it inadvertently ended up at the top of the list.

Something that’s perhaps widely known but not necessarily widely talked about in Japan is the relatively high suicide rate. (I wrote a bit about it here, after reading A Tale for the Time Being.) There’s actually a forest on Mt Fuji that has been nicknamed the “suicide forest” because so many people have gone there to commit suicide. Its real name, however, is Aokigahara (also known as the “sea of trees” because of how peaceful it is), and this was the place KF wanted to visit. (Random trivia: supposedly a lot of movies – particularly horror movies – get filmed in this forest because of the peacefulness and eeriness.)

Since this was pretty much her one request (she pretty much left the rest of the trip to my choosing), there was no way we weren’t going to go. In all honesty, if she hadn’t picked Aokigahara, I probably would’ve skipped Mt Fuji altogether, in favour of spending more time in Tokyo or Kyoto. I mean, yes, ok, it’s iconic and much revered in Japan, but I suppose I didn’t think of it as essential on one’s first visit there.

Hmm… All I can say now is, it’s a good thing KF came with me, and a good thing she suggested Aokigahara. As I mentioned in a previous post, this actually turned out to be one of the most memorable days of the trip. It’s one thing to see photos and hear stories from other people, but to actually be there is an entirely different thing.

What really made the day for me was all the snow! (Surprise, surprise…)

I booked a tour with Viator, which included viewing Mt Fuji and visiting some surrounding areas in the morning, followed by a visit to Aokigahara and the ice caves in the afternoon. We were supposed to go up part of the mountain in the first portion of the tour, but it was snowing too much, and we couldn’t get access (or something like that, according to our guide).

The second part of the tour still went ahead as planned, though, and it was snowing the whole time. Granted, we got into a small bus/van for that (the first part was in a large bus, combined with people on a separate tour), so I suppose that made it easier to get clearance to go up (?)

Side note: I don’t usually go on guided tours anywhere, so I was pleasantly surprised by this one. On our way from Tokyo to Mt Fuji, the tour guide (an older woman who spoke pretty good English) told us random facts about Japan. One thing she clarified was why so many people wear face masks in Japan: it’s not because they’re worried about infectious diseases (as one might think) but because of pollen allergies. A friend of mine had actually told me, prior to the holiday, that Japan has quite a high pollen count, and allergies can get quite bad, even in the city. Yet it wasn’t until the tour guide explained about the face masks that it all made sense.

Aokigahara

There’s something wondrous about walking through the snow in a tranquil forest. I’m sure I would’ve still enjoyed it if it hadn’t been snowing, but, even though we’d only just gotten back from Hokkaido, I was so happy to see snow again! I don’t think I stopped smiling the whole time 😀

The ice caves were an excellent addition to the tour too. I had never been caving before, so it was a very interesting experience for me. In the ice caves of Aokigahara, our guide for that portion of the tour (Hiro), showed us the ruins of a little house in the caves. Yes, actually in the caves.

To be fair, it was more like bits of timber scattered about rather than an actual skeleton of a house, but it was still cool. The story is that people used to take ice from the ice caves, and sell it above-ground. Sounds bizarre, but maybe this practice predates refrigeration (?) Also, there’s always ice in the caves – all year round. At one point, the ice is about 12 metres deep.

Ice cave

It was kind of hard to get good photos in the cave because it was so completely dark, and we only had the light of our headlamps, but it didn’t stop me from trying. This one’s of the cave floor with all its stalagmites. Not surprisingly, it was really slippery walking around in there, but we went pretty slowly, so I think only one person slipped at one point.

Hiro, our guide, was super nice, and he told me he conducts these tours almost every day of the year (and there’s always ice in the cave). Maybe most people would think it’d get pretty boring doing the same tour day in and day out, but he was as cheerful and enthusiastic as you could imagine. I mean, I wouldn’t mind doing his job either – all through winter at least.

By the time we got out of the cave again, it was snowing pretty heavily. Well, not like a blizzard or something, but it was heavier snowfall than what we’d gotten in Hokkaido. It really just topped off the whole thing, walking back through the forest in all that snow! There was just something so wondrous and magical about it, and I wasn’t the only one dawdling on the way back, trying to take it all in.

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