There were 2,645 suicides recorded in January 2009, a 15 percent increase from the 2,305 for January 2008, according to the Japanese government.
"Unemployment is leading to this," said Toyoki Yoshida, a suicide and credit counselor. Yoshida and his fellow volunteer, Norio Sawaguchi, posted signs in Aokigahara Forest urging suicidal visitors to call their organization, a credit counseling service. Both men say Japanese society too often turns a cold shoulder to the unemployed and bankrupt, and breeds a culture where suicide is still seen as an honorable option.
Since the 1950s, more than 500 people have lost their lives in the forest, mostly suicides, with approximately 30 counted yearly. In 2002, 78 bodies were found within the forest, replacing the previous record of 73 in 1998. The high rate of suicide has led officials to place signs in the forest, urging those who have gone there in order to commit suicide to seek help and not kill themselves.
The forest floor consists primarily of volcanic rock and is difficult to penetrate with hand tools such as picks or shovels. There are also a variety of unofficial trails that are used semi-regularly for the annual "body hunt" done by local volunteers, who mark their search areas with plastic tape. The plastic tape is never removed, so a great deal of it litters the first kilometer of the forest, past the designated trails leading to tourist attractions such as the Ice Cave and Wind Cave.
After the first kilometer into Aokigahara towards Mount Fuji, the forest is in a much more pristine state, with little to no litter and few obvious signs of human contact. On some occasions human remains can be found in the distant reaches of the forest, but these are usually several years old and consist of scattered bones and incomplete skeletons, suggesting the presence of scavenging animals.
A very popular myth states that the magnetic iron deposits underground cause compasses to malfunction and travelers to get lost in the forest. However this myth is largely false. Japan's Self Defence Force and the US Military regularly run training practices through portions of the forest, during which military grade lensatic compasses have been verified to function properly.
Local authorities, saying they are the last resort to stop people from killing themselves in the forest, have posted security cameras at the entrances of the forest.