Valley of the Dolls: Nagora, Japan’s departed residents are ‘replaced’ by scarecrow replicas

[Another unusual context for social presence… this is from All Day, where there are 21 more images and the link below to a 6:30 minute documentary on Vimeo. I particularly like that you can ‘visit’ the town and its dolls via Google Earth. For a more unsettling example of this kind of thing, there’s Mexico’s Isla de las Munecas (Island of the Dolls) – see and the 2:34 minute video by David Maurice Smith on Vimeo. –Matthew ]

'Grandparents' in the Valley Of Dolls

Nagora, Japan: Valley Of The Dolls

By Ash M. Richter

If all of your neighbors were replaced by dolls, what would you do?

That’s the bizarre question faced by 33 of the remaining inhabitants of the small town of Nagoro in Japan. Because the 34th resident has been busily filling the increasingly empty town with hundreds of scarecrow replicas of their former friends and family. And its a little unsettling…

Meet Ayano Tsukimi. She grew up in Nagoro and then moved away to the big city for most of her adult life.

When she moved back to Nagoro eleven years ago, it was a ghost town. Like her, most of its inhabitants had moved to the city.

In an effort to fill her time and the void left by the loss of her family and friends—Ayano began making scarecrow versions of them.

Starting with one of her father.

The idea came to her after her attempts at gardening failed. She decided that maybe if there was a scarecrow in her field, her plants would have a chance at success.

So she made one. And then another. And then another.

Her scarecrows began spreading from her own property to throughout the town.

The dolls are posed lounging, working, and carrying on their doll lives as if they were the real people of the town.

And in a certain sense, they are.

She deliberately bases the appearance of each scarecrow on that of previous inhabitants of the town.

Now, as each of the few remaining real townsfolk dies or moves, she creates a doll in their memory and adds it to the collection around the valley.

Each doll takes considerable time and effort to make. Their clothes are hand-me downs. But the limbs and faces are hand sewn by Ayano.

She takes great pains in making their faces, because she doesn’t want the dolls to look scary or angry (though she’s well aware that some people are absolutely terrified by her artistic endeavor).

She’s particularly proud of her ability to recreate the grandmothers of the town.

She says the trick is in tightening the mouth to give them their knowing smiles.

Most of Ayano’s poppets were initially just outdoor creations.

Which means that they’re constantly exposed to the weather.

Since they’re made of mostly biodegradable equipment—they fall apart eventually.

Ayano reckons each doll has needed to be remade every three years or so.

Nagoro is an isolated mountain town, once made prosperous by the nearby dam.

But with so few living inhabitants, the many buildings that once housed the dam staff and their families are now vacant.

Ayano has started filling them with her dolls.

Posing them in the space as if they were just momentarily paused in their daily routine.

The local school is one of her favorite settings.

She’s set up her student scarecrows, a teacher, and a principal—all with the accoutrements of the classroom intact.

As of the making of the mini-documentary, Valley of the Dolls, Ayano has made at least 350 dolls and deposited them tastefully throughout her emptying village.

She knows not everyone loves them—but she seems to be hoping that enough people will like the idea, that they’ll want to visit her and her remote mountain town.

Many of them are visible from the road—so passing motorists might be intrigued and stop to linger.

Their proximity to the road also means that you don’t have to travel all the way to Japan to visit Ayano and her dolls—you can roam the town on Google Earth.

So far, her artistic statement is doing fairly well at drawing in local Japanese tourists who want to be photographed alongside her creations.

It’s definitely not everyone’s cup of tea (and it’s definitely going to give someone nightmares later), but it’s an impressive commitment to a harebrained, madcap idea.

And a very touching memorial to the bustling town that Ayano remembers.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

ISPR Presence News

Search ISPR Presence News: