Category: Weird Articles
Published on Friday, 19 December 2014 00:00
An elderly woman in a Japanese village with a rapidly decreasing population is replacing its dead residents with scarecrows or life-sized dolls that she hand makes.
In the small village of Nagoro, Japan, there are currently only 35 surviving villagers, and three times more scarecrows. The person responsible for turning this village into a real life doll house is 65-year-old Tsukimi Ayano. Despite her age, she is one of the younger residents in the village. After spending decades away from her home town, she moved back from Osaka to look after her 85-year-old father.
Remote villages are becoming an increasingly common problem in Japan with its high aging population. More than 10,000 towns and villages in Japan and depopulated with deserted homes and infrastructure crumbling and being claimed back by nature as the countryside empties.
As a response to that problem, Tsukimi has taken to making mannequins to replace neighbors who have died or moved away.
“They bring back memories,” Tsukimi said of the life-size dolls strategically positioned into corners of her farmhouse, perched on fences and trees, huddled side-by-side at a produce stall, the bus stop - anywhere a living person might stop.
She pointed out a few scarecrows and said, “That old lady used to come and chat and drink tea. That old man used to love to drink sake and tell stories. It reminds me of the old times, when they were still alive and well.”
The ghost town is mostly abandoned. Shops and homes remain permanently shuttered and frozen in time.
When Japan grew increasingly affluent after WWII, younger Japanese folks decided to get with the times and abandoned the countryside, flooding into the cities to look for jobs in factories and service industries, leaving their elders behind to tend to the small village farms. Only a few decided to continue residing in the countryside, but nowadays it seems that the youngsters don't wish to lead a mundane village life anymore, and once they are of age, they move away to the big cities to start a family.
Not to mention, with Japan's falling birthrate, it means there are too few people to repopulate rural areas as the rapidly ageing population left tending the fields pass away.
So with no young ones left to raise, the local elementary school in Nagoro closed down two years ago. But Tsukimi decided to keep it 'alive' by filling the classrooms with her self-made mannequins of teachers and students. Occasionally, she would guide visitors through the spotless and ominously silent school where the teachers and students just gaze ahead blankly with soul-less eyes.
When Tsukimi returned to her hometown 13 years ago, she initially tried farming radishes, but to no avail, and she suspected that her seeds may have been eaten by crows, so she decided to make some scarecrows.
She definitely got carried away with the scarecrow making. Now there are more than 100 scattered all across Nagoro and other towns in Shikoku.
Tsukimi tries to make them behave as realistically as possible, each has its own whimsical expression. Some will be asleep, others chilling with a bunch of friends or taking a break from work. A couple of mannequin mothers cuddle their toddler dolls, and scarecrow men plough fields.
Tsukimi has gotten so used to living with them that she brings one along for company on her 90-minute drive to buy groceries in the nearest big town. But most remain behind to be photographed and marveled either in horror or fascination by tourists who detour through the winding mountain roads.
“If I hadn't made these scarecrows, people would just drive right by,” she said.