Nagoro: The Japanese Village of Dolls

Dec 16, 2016 1 comments

The village of Nagoro on the south-western island of Shikoku, in Japan, was once home to hundreds of residents. But over the years, Nagoro’s population had fallen dramatically as the village's young inhabitants left to find work and better lives in cities, leaving the very old —the pensioners— as Nagoro’s only residents today.

In the early 2000s, when Ayano Tsukimi returned to her home in Nagoro after decades living in the sprawling metropolis of Osaka, she was saddened to find her village resembling a ghost town. So she started making life-sized dolls, one for each resident that had left the village or died, and placed them around the village. Brightly dressed figures crowd outside a shop; another bunch wrapped in winter clothes wait at the bus stop; old ladies sit by the roadside and gaze at the fields beyond. The dolls are everywhere, and they outnumber Nagoro’s actual residents by a factor of ten.


Scarecrow passengers wait for a bus at a bus stop in Nagoro. Photo credit: Elaine Kurtenbach

Tsukimi discovered her craft by accident when she was making scarecrows for a vegetable field that she was trying to get started after she moved back to Nagoro. One of the scarecrows, she thought, looked like her father, and an idea sparked. In the last twelve years or so, Tsukimi has crafted more than 350 scarecrows built on a wooden base, and wrapped with newspapers, straw and cloth to give the figures volume. She then dressed them in old clothes.

Tsukimi needs to attend to them frequently as they get worn out in the sun and rain. Now that the dolls have started attracting tourists to Nagoro, Tsukimi takes care to keep them immaculately dressed.

Nagoro’s depopulation is a condition that’s been affecting tens of thousands of villages all around Japan. Compounding the problem is the country’s low birth rate which means that there are fewer young people to populate the deserted villages. Additionally, the number of elderly population in Japan is increasing with as many as 20 per cent of the country's 127 million people aged over 65. Forty thousand Japanese are above hundred. Along with declining birth rate, it is expected that 40 per cent of Japanese will be above retirement age by the middle of the century. In the same period, Japan’s population will have fallen under the 100 million mark.

At 65, Ayano Tsukimi is the youngest resident of Nagoro. The village’s school closed in 2012 after its two remaining pupils graduated. Today, the building is occupied by Ayano's dolls —students behind desks, open books in front of them, while a teacher stands by the blackboard and a suit-wearing school principal looks on.

Related reading:
Mexico's Island Of The Dolls
The Terrifying Scarecrows of Britain
Hiljainen Kansa: The Silent People of Suomussalmi


Photo credit: Elaine Kurtenbach


Tsukimi Ayano stitches a scarecrow girl by her outdoor hearth at her home in Nagoro. Photo credit: Elaine Kurtenbach


Photo credit:  Fritz Schumann


Photo credit:  Fritz Schumann


Photo credit:  Fritz Schumann


Photo credit:  Fritz Schumann


Photo credit:  Fritz Schumann


Photo credit:  Fritz Schumann


Photo credit:  Fritz Schumann

Sources: Reuters / the Verge / The Guardian


  1. This is a sad story! The dolls are wonderful, a real piece of art!


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