I think there is a line, but it’s a line that crosses all of tourism, dark or otherwise. You shouldn’t travel places that put yourself or others in danger, such as warzones or harsh environments where unpreparedness would necessitate rescue. You shouldn’t go places where tourists are unwanted by the locals, such as North Sentinel Island. And wherever you go you should be respectful and open to learning, not just there to gawk and be entertained.
Wise words WhiskeyBristles
I think one’s manner of conduct is a bigger factor than your physical presence when it comes visiting a place that is tied to a solemn event. Take for instance the location of the Kennedy assassination in Dallas. I’ve been a couple of times. The whole thing with the possible exception of the gift shop on-sight is very tastefully done. The self guided tour through the book repository is excellent. When you go outside there is a marker in the street indicating the location where the fatal bullet struck the President. Everything about the site seemed appropriate given the gravity of the events until I saw visitors both foreign and domestic running out into the road and taking selfies with the marker in the background. I had no trouble with anyone taking pictures of the marker from the sidewalk, but somehow it seemed inappropriate to run out and take a selfie with the marker. Am I out on a limb there or that or does that resonate the same way with you folk?
I’m with you on judgement of the gift shop in Dallas. I don’t want to buy a FUTURE PRESIDENT onesie from the place where JFK got shot.
This topic kinda popped up in another thread, questioning whether or not it would have been a good idea to preserve the HH Holmes Murder Castle. As an unabashed lover of all things macabre, if that place existed, I would have definitely visited. But is it socially important? Not really. The concentration camps and Cambodian killing fields absolutely should be preserved because they pose a warning to future generations and reflect a time when entire societies got behind something evil. They’re reminders to beware of tyrants. But if we’re talking about more isolated sites of violence by lone killers, creating a spectacle doesn’t serve anyone. That said, I also don’t judge anyone who wants to visit those places should they still exist.
There’s also a lot to be said for the passage of time and scale of violence. People visit the Tower of London and the battlefields of Gettysburg without batting an eye. But visiting a church where kids were molested in recent history holds no appeal.
I think its the selfie thing in particular which can seem a bit crass and narcissistic in the context of these places.
A couple of months ago me and my girlfriend were deciding whether to visit the “Memorial da Resistência de São Paulo” which is this museum/ memorial that chronicles the history of the decades long millitary junta dictatorship in Brazil.
It was a completely brutal period in the history of that country where there was mass torture , mass killings and a lot of human suffering. It’s an extremely taboo topic in Brazil and is a bit like the Spanish civil war in Spain in the sense that the country has still not dealt or acknowledged that dark past in its collective unconcious. I mean , not just in the sense of how many people lost their lives but also how many people were complicit in the dictatorship and in many cases approved and even participated in its atrocities.
Anyway, we both have an interest in that poignant aspect of Brazilian and Latin American history so thought we would check it out. So we looked at the reviews and comments on “Trip advisor”. We were completely shocked to see that people had posted selfies of themselves striking poses and with their most photogenic smiles while standing by the door of the torture room where people were beaten to a pulp and often to death, given electric shocks and had live rats inserted into … well you get the picture.
It just made our jaws drop at how people could visit a place like that and be seemingly totally ignorant to the suffering and misery that occured there, and then to take selfies… I found it very weird and disturbing indeed … I guess I just cant understand the cognitive dissonance of some of these people. I suppose that is a prime example of how dark tourism can sometimes fail to move or horrify people about the past.
Favor Dark Tourism for Ed IE WW2, Vietnam battlesites, Known haunted sites IF active, UFO sighting places?? But NOT to invade Pvt homes.
Castles, estates, bunkers, caverns, etc dep on locale, land etc I say Yes & No.
The key term in your op is the word “disrespectful”. I have created lots of maps involving dark subjects like maps of war battlefields, cities of the dead (cemeteries etc.), the Trayvon Martin murder scene, ghost towns, ancient ruins, sunken ship and plane crash sites etc. and they get a lot of visits by people, and those able to travel make these locations a popular place to visit. However, how one respects the location is important in these times when the haters and terrorist groups destroy them. Or natural features being pushed over just for the fun of it by some kids. No matter what your political opinion, your desire for a purer community, your polarization, your unwillingness to compromise, there is no place for disrespecting the dead or your opposition because there will always two opposing rights and two opposing wrongs. What favors one group likely comes at a price to others when the unintended consequences of well-intended pragmatic thinking has both beneficial and perverse results.
Yes. I traveled from Canada to Europe to backpack for several months and I was very interested in the Holocaust from past history classes. The amount of disrespect you see in places like Auschwitz or the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin is astonishing. I think that if you’re traveling with the intentions of seeking out dark places you probably already know to show as much respect as possible.
I’m in the midst of planning for an October trip to Japan; my young adult kids want to visit Aokigahara, the “suicide forest” at the foot of Mount Fuji. I’m against it for a number of reasons—the notoriety, particularly that created by the American YouTuber Logan Paul; the seeming lack of respect in being a tourist in a place where so many people have taken their own lives; and, admittedly, my own superstitious fears. (I was raised in a traditional Japanese family: my grandmother used to discourage us from taking a shortcut through a nearby cemetery because “something might follow you home.” Also, a place where many deaths have taken place is regarded in Japanese folk tales as having an “aura” that attracts evil and parasitic spirits.) My kids however are like “how can we go to Japan and NOT see Aokigahara?” I think they’re just curious, and not into seeking social media points; they also enjoy ghost stories and paranormal investigation shows. But I’m still against it, not the least because it’ll take a day out of an already crowded itinerary. Then, this is a once in a lifetime trip for myself (I just turned 60 and doubt if I can afford to travel twice to Japan) and possibly for my kids, who are struggling to pay student loans on restaurant worker and contract jobs. (I’m assuming all of the travel costs, except for shopping and “party expenses.”) Does anyone think visiting Aokigahara is a good idea?
I think its a decision ultimately up to you and the family. But I do feel especially the reverence for honor and ancestry that is Japanese culture it would be best not to. Or find a way where you can, but that allows you to pay respects to the forest and those who perished there. I am super superstitious myself and that maybe that side of me talking here lol, but I think its one of those places where if you choose to go it has to be with the right mind, heart, and spirit. I also think its one of those places you visit not out of curiosity but to gain a better perspective on life and to pay respects. Hope that made sense lol and above all enjoy the trip its a dream of mine to visit Japan and see Iga.
Well said Jonathan ! Totally agree
First I should say , I’ve never been to Japan so unfortunately I cant give you any suggestions of places to visit , but I have had many Japanese friends over the years and am fascinated by its culture , literature , cinema and history and I often daydream about visiting the country myself.
Personally my advice, for what its worth, is to avoid Aokigahara. It is a fascinating and atmospheric place , I’m sure of that , but its notoriety especially on social media is in itself like some kind of unquiet and malevolent entity in the way it seems to be attracting a lot of people to visit for all the wrong reasons. I think that given what happens there , a place as solemn and filled with tragedy as Aokigahara kind of demands to be respected and anyone who does decide to visit should do so cautiously and enter with a very sober and compassionate state of mind.
What goes on in that forest is ongoing, not historic, and I think it shows how atomized and lacking in emotional maturity our society has become that social media trends are driving people to gleefully visit a place where people take their own lives just for the thrill of spotting the fly blown corpse of some poor soul swinging from a tree. The actions of that Youtuber you mentioned kind of say it all , but I get it , its peer pressure and the validation of being cool that comes from following in their footsteps.
I think maybe a better option would be to visit some of the other forests, as from what I’ve read there are literally hundreds of forests on the islands where people in centuries past entered to voluntarily commit suicide. I guess the advantage of those places would be that it happened historically and they are no longer suicide hotspots so there is no risk of actually seeing any bodies. Alternatively , how about the feudal castles ? or museums of samurai history ? and there are probably hundreds of shinto sacred groves and shrines which have a similar spooky aura about them.
Thanks! I’m glad I’m not the only person who still feels superstitious: when I brought this up with some agnostic/‘skeptic’ friends, they scoffed at me and said ‘ghosts don’t exist, you’re just projecting your own fears about death.’ The ethical part bothers me the most, the idea that we’d be visiting this forest only because of its reputation as being a place for suicide. But after writing this post, I found myself confronting my own beliefs in spirits, the afterlife, and traditional Japanese spiritualism. It embarrassed me a bit, but at the same time I don’t see my beliefs changing now, especially since I’ve had my own experiences with inexplicable phenomena.
I think my kids and I need to sit down and have a discussion about why a visit to such a place is troubling at best and shouldn’t be taken lightly. I may put it to them that if they really want to travel to Aokigahara, they can do so but they have to pay for it out of their own pockets. But as a parent I know I’m going to worry about them—people do get lost in those woods, especially since compasses don’t work there and cellphone reception is almost nonexistent, due to the heavy iron deposits in the soil. It’s a tough call since they are adults, and adventurous ones at that.
Thank you for the suggestions. I’m really interested in seeing rural Japan, particularly Wakayama where my father’s family is from (including the superstitious grandmother); I’m also interested in ancient Japanese history and would like to take an archaeological tour of one of the burial mounds outside of Osaka. Aokigahara is not only in the opposite direction of these, but would require a separate journey by train and bus. Practical matters aside however, I’ve been told by Japanese natives that the “suicide forest” is not a place for tourists. It’s only been recently that foreign tourists have started visiting the area, largely due to it being featured on shows like “Dark Tourist” and paranormal reality TV. (It sounds almost funny saying “reality TV” with the word ‘paranormal.’) I’ve also noticed the explosion of YouTube videos made by American tourists, mostly young, of their visit to Aokigahara. Some are respectful of the place’s known reputation, but others feature “let’s see if we can find a dead body or ghost” storytelling. It’s sad and disgusting; it’s as if people visited the Golden Gate Bridge solely for its reputation as a place to commit suicide.
As I said to jonathancarey, I think this requires a long family discussion on why I have misgivings about visiting this place, with maybe the additional requirement that if my children really want to go there, they’ll have to pay for the side trip themselves. (I know already if they do go without me, I will worry about them; maybe I’ll end up going just to make sure they get home in one piece.) Maybe I can persuade to them to go to another ‘haunted’ but less ethically troubling venue, like Dan-no-Ura Bay, where the Heike clan threw themselves into the sea rather than surrender to the victorious Minamoto warriors. Supposedly their ghosts returned to listen to a gifted blind monk play the biwa, a story told in the movie “Kwaidan.”
Oh my god , I’m glad you mentioned “Kwaidan” as its one of my favourite films , In my opinion its one of cinemas great masterpieces. I love the way in Japanese folktales and mythology the supernatural permeates the world of the living.
I love "Hoichi the earless " and the other tales too , but I think my favourite is the first tale “The black hair”.
On the subject of vintage Japanese horror , how about “Onibaba” ?
Then theres that other Koyabashi great masterpiece which deals with the horror of suicide and that is critical of the whole group-think and feudal beaurocracy , “Harakiri”. Its another one of my all time favourites and I think its kind of a cinematic innoculation against the whole “suicide forest” social media trend.
These are great films! It’s why I was excited when Criterion announced they were starting their own streaming service.
There is still this belief within the facade of contemporary Japanese society that it’s better to die than face the shame of having failed to pass the university entrance exam, or bankruptcy, or having been fired from a prestigious job. No one falls on their sword these days, Yukio Mishima notwithstanding; but it’s maybe more troubling that these people choose to hide themselves away to commit suicide, as if the act itself is shameful. There are a handful of people who have taken it upon themselves to discourage those who come to Aokigahara to kill themselves, and signs have been posted in the forest, begging people to remember their lives matter. I wonder what these volunteers think of American tourists who come there just to gawk and make videos.
Love Criterion collection but hate their new website design , they used to have themes you could click on to get suggestions of different genres but its been scrapped.
In regards to Aokigahara it seems almost an indicator/ symptom of a societal stressor , like a canary in the coalmine, as to how bad levels of mental illness and depression really are. I think its kind of the same with the Hikikimori phenomenon that is afflicting young and middle aged men.
These seem to be signs that the atomisation of modern life combined with a society with a deeply entrenched view of shame and drive towards conformity are a pessure cooker with devastating effects on mental health. I remember reading “The chrysantheum and the sword” a couple of years ago and being haunted by the way that the anthropologist wrote about the stigma of shame in Japan.
But I think although there are undoubtedly many factors that are endemic to Japan and the Japanese psyche it would be wrong to single out the country , as mental health problems are on the rise in a global sense.
That would be interesting to know , but somehow I think that they would strongly dissaprove of the tourists behaviour , and rightly so.
I’ve been fortunate to see little disrespect toward people or monuments, although the Internet certainly bears evidence that this happens. I’m reminded of a Trevor Noah set where he talks about an uncomfortable tour in Bali.
The darkest experiences I’ve had with tourism were witnessing animal abuse, suffering, or habitat destruction, sometimes immediately following a requisite spiel about respecting nature and the listing of conduct rules accompanied by a wink. Ask lots of questions, always have an out, and document what you can.
Not at all, I feel the same way about most things, especially when it involves things that no one has yet to been able to explain, and involves spiritual elements. That is a tough call as a parent and with such a big trip but I think that once you lay out your thoughts and maybe even something you all can do instead they will understand. I’m sure that once you all get in the swing of the trip it’ll be the last thing they are thinking about. Enjoy it!!!