There’s the ‘That’s a little odd” then there’s the “That’s definitely creepy.” The following photos shown here will be shipped right into that latter category. Japan is known for its sushi, beautiful tech/chic urban culture and fashion, Nintendo, and of course, anime. However, this popular Asian country is also slowly becoming popular in another way, for something a bit more melancholic with a hint of eerie. That something is Nagoro. A remote village hidden deep in the valleys of Shikoku, Japan, it is soon becoming deserted. In other words, it’s becoming a ghost town as the village’s residents head off to the big cities like Tokyo for the opportunities to a better life. So, people are leaving and something else is coming to fill their places, their schools, their homes. Dolls. Yes, you read that completely right.
Just over a decade ago, a former Nagora resident by the name of Ayano Tsukimi returned home to the village only to find that it was steadily being depleted of its human occupants from either migration to the cities or death. To fill the void, she has populated the village with over 350 dolls that are built like scarecrows, each representing a former villager. Let’s take a look at some of them and try not to get at least a little bit freaked out.
15. The Lone Ranger
This shot of a static man in a hat and long pants all by his lonesome on a bridge is at once silently captivating, but also unsettling. Think about it: this is a random doll all alone on a bridge. What could have been Tsukimi’s reason behind this particular doll and for placing this doll here? Perhaps she is commemorating old townsmen who would sit and relax at this particular bridge? Perhaps a fisherman who would rest here and think about life and other musings following a weekly fishing trip? Who knows? One thing is for sure, it is freaky.
14. A School of Just Dolls
Yes, this photograph is instant creepiness. Here is pictured what seems to be a classroom. This was once a local school in Nagoro, filled with children, teachers, a principal, and all the rest of the gang. Now, there are children, teachers (see the next photo down), and a principal, but they’re just dolls. Nothing out of the ordinary. To the left, you see the kid with the cap on beginning to turn his page in his workbook. The girl and boy to the side of him have their own workbooks, but the girl looks a tad bit confused. The kids behind him in the back row all look very attentive. These are some studious scarecrow school kids (try saying that three times fast).
13. Class Is In Session
Now, the creepy factor has spiked up tremendously. We have a strange man playing the piano for some reason. Is he a music teacher who has come to speak to the children about music theory, treble clefs, and Bach? Some of the schoolchildren are slouching, one is being the class clown and is turned away from the authority figures (see the ‘boy’ to the very far left in the cap and red flannel shirt). The amount of personality in these non-living scarecrow dolls is simultaneously fascinating and strange. Downright strange. The odd stillness and stiffness presented by these dolls in their straw and fabric perfectly portrays the depletion of this school.
12. Don’t Put Baby in the Corner
This kid must have been put on timeout for bad conduct. His misdemeanor: being downright scary. He’s looks like Michael Myers’ son with the very pale face and stringy brunette hair hanging against his face. Well, at least he’s colorful and decorated in his plaid shorts and striped pants. Obviously, he dressed himself for school this morning as approved by his mother and father. That makes his second misdemeanor: assault to the eyes. On second thought, this doll might actually be a girl… But, irregardless, who’s really concerned about the sex of the doll when the big elephant in the room is that this is a doll just sitting for no reason in the corner of a school hallway.
11. Students Ditching Class
Imagine you’re making a quick getaway in an abandoned school (From what and why a school? Who knows? Just run with it.) and your chasers are eating your dust as you gain distance. You think you’re free then you turn a corner to find this. You find two scarecrow kids just hanging by the stairs in the hallway. Children of the Corn, anyone? I doubt someone would not be just an ounce uneasy by this sight. It’s unexpected, it’s weird, and it’s unsettling. Sure, these are kids ditching class or something. The point is, however, that it’s made strange because they’re dolls and dolls don’t go to school.
10. The Motorcycle Man
Now, let’s take a step outside. Meet The Motorcycle Man. Never mind the fact that he’s freakishly flexible (Look at the position of his left foot. Not even an ice pack will take care of that type of sprain.). This scarecrow doll is just hanging outside with his bike, seemingly just staring off into the hills, valleys, and other forestry. One wouldn’t find it out of the ordinary if it were a human. But, perhaps dolls need breaks too. You know, because being a body of straw and sticks and stitches is a tough life. At least he’s an active doll. Dolls need their exercise too.
9. The Old Couple
This old couple seems to be following the vow, “‘Til death do us part” quite literally. Their posture of leaning on one another could be a great metaphorical statement on the state of Nagoro and how its dwindling residents lean on one another as they approach their moments of physical transition either through death from old age or from transitioning out of the village for the city life. The amount of compassion that seeps from these dolls should give a sentiment of sorrowful beauty, but with a town full of dolls replacing real people, the air of eeriness seems to wash it away.
8. The Woman In the Woods
Here is an elderly village lady taking a rest out in the wilderness under what appears to be a tree or some sort of makeshift hut probably created by Tsukimi just as much as this very doll was created. Now that we’ve discussed the general setting and features, let’s discuss the strange because the pink elephant in the room (Err…Make that ‘the pink elephant in the woods”) cannot be ignored. The old lady’s face appears cloudy and unfocused. She looks very abandoned, slipshod, and misplaced much like the village of Nagoro has been in the same way. She is a perfect reflection of the state of this small, and increasingly getting smaller, village.
7. The Man Behind the Tree
to represent? Why is he creeping behind what appears to be a tree? And why is his face so sinister? There are so many questions concerning this particular doll? Is Tsukimi trying to express that there is always that there is always that pending doom lurking in the background within Nagoro? That where you look, you will find not a single soul because villagers are consistently leaving this village behind? Is that the ‘sinister’ presence? The ever-present emigration of Nagoro villagers who make an exodus out of the country to the urban life?
6. The Boy with No Friends
Is that a smear on this photograph or is this lonely boy doll crying tears? He looks alone, somber, and definitely dirty. He looks like a kid with no friends or an orphan; misplaced and abandoned like the state of Nagoro. As the old die in this village and the middle-aged exit this village for the city, what is the fate of the new? Will Nagoro be born anew or will it fade into a ghost town and die out? Tsukimi wants to make sure that doesn’t happen. One thing that can’t be stopped from happening is the uneasiness one feels looking at this photo.
5. The Ones Who Sit Outside
Are these middle-aged dolls sitting and waiting for a change to come? For the old villagers to return with urban flair and skills to regrow the rural traditions of their home village? For the old who have returned to the dirt and Earth to resurrect? There are just endless feelings and puzzles that all of these dolls and their placements all around Nagoro inspire and create in those who view them either through the internet or in person. You can sense the frozen in time and sterile vibe of this village just by looking at this photo. You sit and wait long enough at this photograph like the two dolls in it and you’re sure to start feeling uncomfortable.
4. The Old Lady
Here we have an old lady with a bag sitting in a lawn chair with her eyes closed. Is she meditating? Is she silently plotting something dark and looming? Is she waiting on a bus to take her out of Nagoro? There is so much personality to this doll and a story just bubbling underneath the surface that is mind-boggling. Whp’s to say what Tsukimi’s intention and process of creation was for this particular doll. She might be a reflection of the aging and dying old population of Nagoro villagers. Maybe she’s awaiting her earthly transition too to leave this village behind.
3. The Lady Gardener
So many strange elements are found in this photograph easily. Anyone who views it might have a thousand different ones they can point out. For instance, before even addressing the old lady in the front with her tied scarf and rural dress, let’s take a look at the weird creature behind her peeking out from behind a bush. Is it some sort of leprechaun or a hobbit that bothers her? Is it a puppet? It’s legs are freakishly long and don’t seem to go with its body. Now, moving on to the lady, who is she staring at exactly? Or what is she staring at? She looks afraid and unsure as if she’s gazing at the face of dooming fate.
2. The Meditating Ladies
The women standing up in the background of this photo by the window easily take the car for the creepiest. They are exceptionally pale and stiff and just standing there in a harrowing way. The lady in the very front kneeling in the corner as if praying also looks a bit odd. But, one also should take note of one particular woman (second from the left of this photo with the pale face) who seems to be looking into the camera. Looking into the viewer’s eye, looking into the viewer’s soul. It is very chilling and a far cry from the spiritual solace and serenity that Tsukimi was trying to portray.
1. The Dolls Meet You Upon Arrival
They’re sitting there waiting for you. They are excited locals wanted to welcome you to their village…Many of the scarecrow dolls Tsukimi has created are placed along the beginning road of Nagora intentionally to give visitors a view as a tourist attraction. This is one spot most would definitely ride past and scratch off of their itinerary. This is all like Chucky meets The Hills Have Eyes except it’s set in Asia. You can take a peek yourself at this barren village and its doll residents on Google Maps. Or, if you’re feeling particularly curious (and brave), you can always see it in person if you book a trip to Japan.
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