Nagoro: Inside Japan’s Creepy Doll Village

life-sized scarecrows in Nagoro, Japan
life-sized scarecrows in Nagoro, Japan
Life-sized scarecrows in Nagoro, Japan – Photo credit: Roberto Maxwell on Flickr

What began as a practical scarecrow creation for the family plot has transformed into a whimsical display of memories in the remote village of Nagoro, Japan. When someone passes on or moves away, Ayano Tsukimi, an elderly crafts hobbyist, makes life-sized scarecrows to remember their presence.

These ubiquitous cotton-stuffed dolls are ten times more than the human residents in the village and have become a major attraction for visitors from around the globe.

Ayano’s Scarecrows Make a Fading Village to Come Alive

During her childhood, the village had a population of over 300 residents, including young children. With many of the older residents passing on and the younger ones moving away in search of greener pastures, the village has seen a significant decline in its local population.

By creating scarecrows in the likeness of former residents, Ayano helps keep their memories alive while livening up the isolated village.

two cotton-filled scarecrows created by Ayano Tsukimi
A cotton-stuffed scarecrow looking like Ayano Tsukimi’s father in the background– Photo credit: Roberto Maxwell on Flickr

Ayano’s Work Attracts International Visitors to Her Isolated Village

While the village is less-trodden locally, Ayano’s scarecrow collections are drawing in the attention of curious visitors from all over the world.

From effigies of people talking casually by the roadside to farmers working on rice fields, the scarecrows have been so well-made and placed to show what life was like before they died or relocated.

effigies of people created by Ayano Tsukimi
Effigies of people created by Ayano Tsukimi – Photo credit: Roberto Maxwell on Flickr

About 3,000 international visitors converge in this isolated valley town every year to see Ayano’s great creations. Some visitors are so mesmerized by what they see that they end up returning annually.

Ayano’s work hasn’t always been a worldwide sensation. It only grabbed the attention of the world after Fritz Schumann, a visiting German filmmaker, filmed “Valley of Dolls” in 2014.

What to Expect During a Visit to the Village

When you first visit Nagoro, everything might seem normal until you realize that most of the “people” you see outdoors aren’t really human but stuffed scarecrows. The imaginary figures look so real you’d easily stop and ask them which way to go.

Because the entire village comprises of elderly residents, Nagoro’s only school is no longer operational. It’s been turned into a museum of a dozen imaginary pupils and a teacher.

Ayano Tsukimi inside Nagoro's only school, currently turned into a museum
Ayano Tsukimi inside Nagoro’s only school, currently turned into a museum

What’s the Best Time of the Year to Visit Japan’s ‘Scarecrow Village’

cotton-stuffed dolls in Nagoro, Japan
Cotton-stuffed dolls in Nagoro, Japan – Photo credit: Roberto Maxwell on Flickr

Every first Sunday of October, the annual Scarecrow Festival is staged in honor of the dolls. Anyone is welcome to attend. If you’re looking to see Ayano’s children, this is the best time of the year to visit Nagoro.