In the small Japanese village of Nagoro in the mountains of the Shikoku island, you will find about scarecrows but only 35 inhabitants.
In Japan, like in so many other countries the young people leave the villages and move to the big cities. The villages become silent and almost forgotten to time. You can go to small villages in Japan and feel you have been transported 30 years back in time. Here the school is closed, but scarecrows children are sitting in the classroom. At the bus stop scarecrows sit waiting for a bus that will never arrive.
Tsukimi Ayano, who is one of the youngest inhabitants is 65 years old and has made scarecrows for 13 years. Many of them are made to order and look like children or young people who have left the village.
Tourists have started to flock to the village to see the scarecrows. They keep the birds away but seem to attract scores of tourists.
There’s something weird happening in the sleepy Japanese mountain hamlet of Nagoro. Deaths, a declining national birthrate and depopulation have seen countryside communities like it whither.
For years, the young have been abandoning villages like Nagoro, heading for the cities in search of better job opportunities, acutely aware that whatever dreams they have will surely fade and die were they to remain.
But dreams often give way to the cruel realities of life. Some the of the young people may turn to a life of prostitution, servicing drunken salarymen doing their best to avoid neurotic wives and emotionally distant children.
Today Nagaro is home to a lonely number of just 35 survivors — those who have neither the means or wish to leave. Their only company, a growing legion of canvas mannequins who outnumber the living three-to-one.
These dolls are the work of Tsukimi Ayano, a 65-year-old woman who has returned to Nagoro to care for her elderly father, having moved to Osaka decades ago. Tsukimi is one of the town’s youngest residents.
“They bring back memories,” she says of the scarecrows which leer at visitors from unchanging vantage points. Their dead eyes seeing your every move; their strange, unnatural poses making you feel ill at ease.
“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, she told a reporter from the Associated Press.
There is little sign Nagoro’s population will ever be replenished. It is a museum honoring a better time when town’s like it buzzed with activity.
For now, its only residents who are the product of the mind and hands of an elderly woman caring for her father.