Tucked away in the valleys of Shikoku, the village of Nagoro is set amid a quietly beautiful part of Japan. But unfortunately, that beauty comes at a price. The village’s remote location means that many people have been forced to leave their homes and move closer to the cities. Other members of the Nagoro’s ageing population have passed away, leaving the handful of people who remain to wait and watch as their village dies.
In 2014, Fritz Schumann documented the village and one extraordinary resident: then 64-year-old Ayano Tsukimi. In 2002, she made her first doll, simply intended to be a scarecrow that would keep birds away from her crops. She sewed it in the likeness of her father, and from there, she came upon the idea to repopulate her dying home with dolls fashioned in the likenesses of those who’d once lived there – and those who never would.
Nagoro’s school closed in 2012, after its final two students graduated and left town. Now, the classrooms are full of student-sized dolls, sitting at their desks in a rapt silence that would make any teacher jealous. There’s no telling who else visitors will meet – the village has become something of a tourist attraction, in an ironic twist that’s led tourists to descend on a village that has seemingly little to offer its own people.
According to Business Insider, Ayano not only makes the dolls and positions them all over town, she also arranges them in such a lifelike way that if you didn’t know they were straw and cloth, you might think there was a real person sitting on the banks of the river, lethargically dangling a fishing line into the water. Clothes worn by the dolls once belonged to local residents. In some cases, the scarecrows are fashioned after actual people who have since died.
She checks up on them every day, walking the town and greeting neighbours that, if they respond at all, might only nod in the wind. She’s made hundreds of the dolls – replacing those damaged by the elements – and she’s even made one of herself.
Fortunately, you don’t need to go all to Japan to see them. Once the doll-maker realised that people might be interested in visiting her tiny village, she made sure she positioned some of her neighbours near the road, where you can see them on Google’s Street View.