Inside the Abandoned Japanese Town Taken Over by Thousands of Dolls
① Japan’s Nagoro Doll Village
Shikoku Island, the smallest among Japan’s four main islands, boasts a unique attraction in Nagoro, its tiniest village. Over the years, Nagoro has witnessed a substantial decline in its human population, with just a few remaining residents. While it once thrived with hundreds of inhabitants, the departure of younger generations left the village with 35 residents as of 2015. Today, Nagoro is renowned for a rather peculiar distinction – it is a place where dolls outnumber people.
In Japan, people commonly know this place as the Doll Village and Tsukimi Ayano is the woman responsible for turning it into such an extraordinary settlement. After living in cities, she returned to her hometown of Nagoro and was shocked by how much it had changed, transforming her unique village.
While farming and residing in Nagoro, Tsukimi Ayano had an intriguing experience when she noticed a scarecrow resembling her own father. This serendipitous encounter catalyzed her unique endeavor. She embarked on a mission to craft dolls that closely resembled the residents of Nagoro. Over the past 12 years, Ayano has painstakingly created these dolls, each representing a villager who has either departed or passed away.
Explaining her motivation, Ayano shared, “With no children left in the village, I started making dolls to infuse vitality back into our community.” She elaborated, “When I fashion dolls resembling those who have departed, I endeavor to depict them in their healthy, vibrant states.” Ayano’s artistry is a poignant and symbolic effort to breathe life and remembrance into her dwindling village.
As a result, Nagoro has become a village with more dolls than people. Ayano diligently maintains the dolls scattered around the town to prevent them from getting dirty. You can see dolls everywhere in the village, such as on the streets, schools, and bus stops. There are approximately 350 dolls placed throughout Nagoro.
Ayano has been hosting a doll festival in the village for seven years, conducting events with the residents. She recreated the old sports festival scene with dolls in a primary school that closed after two students graduated in 2012.
② Filling the Void of Decreased Population
The dolls of Nagoro have attracted tourists and sparked interest in doll-making. People want to learn from Tsukimi Ayano, and there’s a growing demand for purchasing these dolls. Other declining population areas have also inquired about creating similar doll villages.
Thanks to the dolls, the landscape of Nagoro is remembered by many as entirely different from the past. While the number of tourists visiting to see the dolls is increasing, the local economy remains dire. Even though accommodations were set up for tourists, they closed down quickly.
Due to its tiny population, the village has no stores and no convenience facilities. It’s been ages since anyone heard the sound of children’s voices in this town. The local elementary school closed its doors long ago due to a lack of children.
Many young people leave their hometowns for better job opportunities and educational prospects in larger cities, leaving behind aging populations in villages like Nagoro. As a result, Nagoro and similar villages have experienced a decline in residents, almost resembling ghost towns. Without the dolls, Nagoro would feel even more desolate.
Nagoro’s situation is emblematic of a broader issue in Japan, where many villages grapple with depopulation. Approximately 40% of Japan’s population resides in major urban centers, contributing to a rapid decline in rural areas. Nagoro symbolizes these villages’ challenges, confronting the looming threat of population extinction.
In rural Japanese villages, over 40% of the population is 65 or older. Japan has implemented various welfare policies to entice young people to these areas, offering incentives like child-rearing subsidies, medical fee discounts, and housing support. However, these measures have proven largely ineffective in stemming the tide of depopulation.
③ Serious Problem of Regional Extinction
The so-called “Masuda Report” released by the Japan Renaissance Conference led by former Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroya Masuda in May 2014 warned that half of Japan’s 896 local governments, following the current population decline trend, will disappear by 2040. With the population decreasing and the proportion of elderly people increasing, the “ghostification” of national apartment complexes has also emerged as a serious social issue.
In Japan, efforts are underway to tackle the issue of regional extinction by promoting tourism. Individual residents become storytellers, discovering unique stories of their region or utilizing local resources to attract tourists.
Kawabamura in Gunma Prefecture, a small village with a population of about 3,600, is located two hours by car from Tokyo. However, the number of tourists visiting this place reaches 2 million annually.
As a travel destination that combines rural and natural attractions, it has become famous by word of mouth, attracting numerous tourists.
Japan and South Korea are experiencing a decrease in rural population due to low birth rates and aging. According to the Korea Employment Information Service, there were 118 areas in the country at risk of population extinction. Excluding the metropolitan area and some regions, the extinction of rural areas is rapidly progressing.
By. Sung Min Seo