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CC via 2.0 // Flickr // Wayne Hsieh

15 Eerie Things About Japan's Suicide Forest

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CC via 2.0 // Flickr // Wayne Hsieh

Northwest of the majestic Mount Fuji is the sprawling 13.5 square miles of Aokigahara, a forest so thick with foliage that it's known as the Sea of Trees. But it's the Japanese landmark's horrific history that made the woods a fitting location for the spooky horror film The Forest. Untold visitors have chosen this place, notoriously called The Suicide Forest, as the setting for their final moments, walking in with no intention of ever walking back out. Here are a few of the terrible truths and scary stories that forged Aokigahara's morbid reputation.

1. AOKIGAHARA IS ONE OF THE MOST POPULAR SUICIDE DESTINATIONS IN THE WORLD.

Statistics on Aokigahara's suicide rates vary, in part because the forest is so lush that some corpses can go undiscovered for years or might be forever lost. However, some estimates claim as many as 100 people a year have successfully killed themselves there.

2. JAPAN HAS A LONG TRADITION OF SUICIDE.

Self-inflicted death doesn't carry the same stigma in this nation as it does in others. Seppuku—a samurai's ritual suicide thought to be honorable—dates back to Japan's feudal era. And while the practice is no longer the norm, it has left a mark. "Vestiges of the seppuku culture can be seen today in the way suicide is viewed as a way of taking responsibility," said Yoshinori Cho, author of Why do People Commit Suicide? and director of the psychiatry department at Teikyo University in Kawasaki, Kanagawa.

3. JAPAN HAS ONE OF THE HIGHEST SUICIDE RATES IN THE WORLD.

The global financial crisis of 2008 made matters worse, resulting in 2,645 recorded suicides in January 2009, a 15 percent increase from the previous year. The numbers reached their peak in March, the end of Japan's financial year. In 2011, the executive director of a suicide prevention hotline told Japan Times, “Callers most frequently cite mental health and family problems as the reason for contemplating suicide. But behind that are other issues, such as financial problems or losing their job.”

4. SUICIDE PREVENTION ATTEMPTS INCLUDE SURVEILLANCE AND POSITIVE POSTS.

Because of the high suicide rate, Japan's government enacted a plan of action that aims to reduce such rates by 20 percent within the next seven years. Part of these measures included posting security cameras at the entrance of the Suicide Forest and increasing patrols. Suicide counselors and police have also posted signs on various paths throughout the forest that offer messages like "Think carefully about your children, your family" and "Your life is a precious gift from your parents."

5. IT'S NATURALLY EERIE.

Bad reputation aside, this is no place for a leisurely stroll. The forest's trees organically twist and turn, their roots winding across the forest floor in treacherous threads. Because of its location at the base of a mountain, the ground is uneven, rocky, and perforated with hundreds of caves. But more jarring than its tricky terrain is the feeling of isolation created from the stillness; the trees are too tightly packed for winds to whip through and the wildlife is sparse. One visitor described the silence as "chasms of emptiness." She added, "I cannot emphasize enough the absence of sound. My breath sounded like a roar."

6. DEATH BY HANGING IS THE MOST POPULAR METHOD OF SUICIDE AMONG THE SEA OF TREES.

The second is said to be poisoning, often by drug overdose.

7. A NOVEL POPULARIZED THIS DARK TRADITION. . .

In 1960, Japanese writer Seichō Matsumoto released the tragic novel Kuroi Jukai, in which a heartbroken lover retreats to the Sea of Trees to end her life. This romantic imagery has proved a seminal and sinister influence on Japanese culture. Also, looped into this lore: The Complete Suicide Manual, which dubs Aokigahara "the perfect place to die." The book has been found among the abandoned possessions of various Suicide Forest visitors.

8. BUT IT WAS NOT THE START OF THE FOREST'S DARK LEGACY.

Ubasute is a brutal form of euthanasia that translates roughly to "abandoning the old woman." An uncommon practice—only resorted to in desperate times of famine—where a family would lessen the amount of mouths to feed by leading an elderly relative to a mountain or similarly remote and rough environment to die, not by means of suicide but by dehydration, starvation, or exposure. Some insist this was not a real occurrence, but rather grim folklore. Regardless, stories of the Sea of Trees being a site for such abandonment have long been a part of its mythos.

9. THE SUICIDE FOREST MAY BE HAUNTED.

Some believe the ghosts—or yurei—of those abandoned by ubasute and the mournful spirits of the suicidal linger in the woods. Folklore claims they are vengeful, dedicated to tormenting visitors and luring those that are sad and lost off the path.

10. ANNUAL SEARCHES HAVE BEEN HELD THERE SINCE 1970.

There are volunteers who do patrol the area, making interventional efforts. However, these annual endeavors are not intended to rescue people, but to recover their remains. Police and volunteers trek through the Sea of Trees to bring bodies back to civilization for a proper burial. In recent years, the Japanese government has declined to release the numbers of corpses recovered from these gruesome searches. But in the early 2000s, 70 to 100 were uncovered each year.

11. BRINGING A TENT INTO THE FOREST SUGGESTS DOUBT.

Camping is allowed in the area but visitors who bring a tent with them are believed to be undecided on their suicide attempt. Some will camp for days, debating their fates. People on prevention patrol will gently speak with such campers, entreating them to leave the forest.

12. THE SUICIDE FOREST IS SO THICK THAT SOME VISITORS USE TAPE TO AVOID GETTING LOST.

Volunteers who search the area for bodies and those considering suicide typically mark their way with plastic ribbon that they'll loop around trees in this leafy labyrinth. Otherwise, one could easily lose their bearings after leaving the path and become fatally lost.

13. YOU MAY NOT BE ABLE TO CALL FOR HELP.

Rich with magnetic iron, the soil of the Suicide Forest plays havoc on cellphone service, GPS systems, and even compasses. This is why tape can be so crucial. But some believe this feature is proof of demons in the dark.

14. NOT EVERYONE WHO GOES THERE HAS DEATH ON THEIR AGENDA.

Locals lament that this natural wonder is known first and foremost for its lethal allure. Still, tourists can take in gorgeous views of Mount Fuji and visit highlights like the distinctive lava plateau, 300-year-old trees, and the enchanting Narusawa Ice Cave.

15. GOING OFF THE PATH CAN LEAD TO GHASTLY DISCOVERIES.

The Internet is littered with disturbing images from the Suicide Forest, from abandoned personal effects snared in the undergrowth to human bones and even more grisly remains strewn across the forest floor or dangling from branches. So if you dare to venture into this forbidding forest, do as the signs suggest and stay on the path.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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© Nintendo
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fun
Nintendo Will Release an $80 Mini SNES in September
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© Nintendo

Retro gamers rejoice: Nintendo just announced that it will be launching a revamped version of its beloved Super Nintendo Classic console, which will allow kids and grown-ups alike to play classic 16-bit games in high-definition.

The new SNES Classic Edition, a miniature version of the original console, comes with an HDMI cable to make it compatible with modern televisions. It also comes pre-loaded with a roster of 21 games, including Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, and Star Fox 2, an unreleased sequel to the 1993 original.

“While many people from around the world consider the Super NES to be one of the greatest video game systems ever made, many of our younger fans never had a chance to play it,” Doug Bowser, Nintendo's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement. “With the Super NES Classic Edition, new fans will be introduced to some of the best Nintendo games of all time, while longtime fans can relive some of their favorite retro classics with family and friends.”

The SNES Classic Edition will go on sale on September 29 and retail for $79.99. Nintendo reportedly only plans to manufacture the console “until the end of calendar year 2017,” which means that the competition to get your hands on one will likely be stiff, as anyone who tried to purchase an NES Classic last year will well remember.

In November 2016, Nintendo released a miniature version of its original NES system, which sold out pretty much instantly. After selling 2.3 million units, Nintendo discontinued the NES Classic in April. In a statement to Polygon, the company has pledged to “produce significantly more units of Super NES Classic Edition than we did of NES Classic Edition.”

Nintendo has not yet released information about where gamers will be able to buy the new console, but you may want to start planning to get in line soon.

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