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Dark tourism; Motivation and social issues (A look at Aokigahara 'Suicide' Forest).

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    The following essay will focus on Dark tourism; motivation and social issues. What are the reasons people are attracted to places where the main theme involves death? In combination with a 'small case study' there will be taken a look at the Aokigahara 'Suicide' Forest in Japan. The forest has a historic association with demons in Japanese mythology and is a popular place for suicides (57 in 2010) despite numerous signs, in Japanese and English, urging people to reconsider their actions [1]. 

    Aokigahara 'Suicide' Forest at the the foot of Mount Fuji [6].

    Dark Tourism

    'Dark Tourism' was first used as a term in the mid 1990's by John Lennon and Malcom Folley. They described it as ‘the phenomenon which encompasses the presentation and consumption (by visitors) of real and commodified death and disaster site's’ (Lennon & Folley, 1996, 198 as cited by Gaya, 2013 [2]). The next definition (given by the Institute of Dark Tourism Research) might be more appropriate and/or understandable: Dark tourism as the act of travel to sites of or sites associated with death has gained significant attention with media imaginations and academic scholarship [3]. In the last twenty years, several studies have been conducted with a lot of results. Most have been focusing on heritage sites with a ‘controversial history’. Examples of these include: old warzones, places of atrocity and horror. In reaction there has been an ongoing debate about the nature of tourism at controversial sites [5].

    Tourism motivation

    Before we can take a look at the dark tourism motivational factors, a short description of tourism motivation is given. Tourist motivation can be defined as: ‘the global integrating network of biological and cultural forces which gives value and direction to travel choices, behavior and experience" (Pearce, Morrison & Rutledge, 1998 as cited by Gaya, 2013 [2]).

    Dark tourism motivational factors of Aokigahara Forest.

    There are many motivational factors that can influence people to travel to ‘dark places’ (like Aokigahara forest). In her research report, Gaya [2] stated a few of them (see figure 2). Based on these, the following motivational factors may have influenced people to go to Aokigahara Forest; curiosity (people are curious about this forest, because of all the attempted suicides), death and dying (people going there too take their own lives), Location and site (it’s supposed to be a 'Sea of Tree's, a nickname given too this large forest cause of its unique display). Artifacts/ exhibits (there is a book prizing this place as one of the best destinations to commit suicide, it’s called: ‘The Complete Manual of Suicide’ by Wataru Tsurumi [4]).

    The concept of the 'tourist gaze' is being discussed by Urry (1990, 1992). The author sums up five types of 'gazes' for dark tourism: romantic, collective, spectatorial, environmental and anthropological. These ‘gazes’ can be described as a way we look and experience an area. For instance: the romantic gaze is described as an area that (after looking at it) will leave you in ‘awe’ or 'sustained'.  Based on this theory and the motivational factors given above for the forest, the types of gazes that account for the Aokigahara are: romantic, spectatorial and environmental. Figure 2 gives an overview of the different types of tourist gazes and their dark tourism motivational factors.

    Figure 2: Different types of gazes and Dark tourism motivational factors in perspective [2].

    Aokigahara Forest and social issues

    So what are the social issues that the Aokigahara Forest is experiencing? Firstly we have to discuss the suicides that have been committed in the area since the 1970’s. Based on the published suicide numbers in the years 2002, 2003 and 2004 (respectively: 78, 100 and 108) it’s a huge problem for the area. But in contrast, it’s also one of the leading motivational factors for people to go there. Not only because of the people that go there to kill themselves, but also because of the dark tourists that go there for the ‘attraction. In recent years it have even come to a point that the government refused to make the suicide numbers public, as an respond to the negative image this gave to the area (association with suicide) [6].

    Also the locals of the area are being affected by the suicides. Children that live there have to be looked after; otherwise they might wander off into the forest and find human corpses. But also because of the people that go there in order to look for the death corpses and take whatever they still had in their possession, and the people that pay others to do it [6]. This ‘looting of the corpses’ is another problem that doesn’t help solve the issues the area is having.

    Written by Sander Christiaan de Vries                                          

    Reference list


    [1] Wikipedia (2014) Aokigahara. [Online] Available on: [Accessed on 22-11-2014].

    [2] E. Gaya (2013) Understanding motivation of visitors at dark tourism sites: Case study of August 7th Memorial Park, Kenya. [Online] Available on [Accesed on 24-11-2014].

    [3] Institute of Dark Tourism Research (iDTR) (2014): Research at the iDTR. [Online] Available on: [Accessed on 22-11-2014].

    [4] Author Unknown (2010) The Complete Manual of Suicide/ Drowning in a Sea of Trees. [Online] Available on: [Accessed on 11-12-2014].

    [5] Hartmann (2014): Dark tourism, thanatourism, and dissonance in heritage tourism management: new directions in contemporary tourism research. [Online] Available on: [Accessed on: 21-11-2014].

    [6] John (unknown) Aokigahara: Japan’s Haunted Forest of [Online] Available on: [Accessed on: 23-11-2014].


    [7] R. Newburn(2014, June) Aokigahara- A History of Death. [Image] Retrieved: 04-12-2014 from:

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    Comments (2)

    Viewing 2 of 2 comments: view all
    Hey, Sander,

    I wanted to see your controversial topic, maybe the most famous from Group 2 :)

    I really like your essay and the way you connect that morbid example from Japan to dark tourism. I guess it is one of the most catchy topics on heritage tourism in general, because of commercialization of someone's death. This could probably attract a number of tourists but on the other hand, it is not the thing which should be promoted as a tourist attraction.

    I could just suggest you to add sources for the image and figure as well, as it is also part of academic writing.

    Best regards,
    Posted 01:58, 29 Nov 2014
    Hello Sander,

    Your presentation as well as your article are well structured. You have managed to broach a very sensitive issue. Well done! I think it was shocking for all of us to get to know about Aokigahara Forest and especially that it motivates travel flows. However, as we are studying tourism, it is crucial to cover and get to know all, also edgy branches of the field. Nevertheless, I agree with Vladimir that this case should only be used for educational purposes and not to promote it as a tourist destination, as this would cross a major ethical border.

    In addition to Vladimirs suggestions, I would like to advise you not to make too short paragraphs (like the one about 'Travel motivations'). This may better be included into the following paragraph, generating an easier appearance and understanding.

    Has anything been done to stop the happenings at the forest (besides the signs in Japanese and English that tell people to reconsider their decisions)?

    Thanks for your interesting work!


    Posted 23:24, 9 Dec 2014
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