If you're travelling along Rte 439, it's not a matter of 'blink and you'll miss it', but blink, and blink again, because you may have a hard time believing your eyes when you hit Nagoro. Those 'people' – waiting at the bus stop, gossiping on a porch, toiling in the fields – are life-sized scarecrow-type dolls made by resident Ayano Tsukimi as a way of memorialising former inhabitants of her hometown, which continues to shrink in size.
The figures are surprisingly lifelike from afar and strikingly expressive up close, each with a unique posture and face. Equal parts eerie and sweet, the dolls of Nagoro create a surreal tableau amid the quiet river valley. For a look into the village, check out the beautiful short film Valley of Dolls (www.vimeo.com/92453765), created by the German filmmaker Fritz Schumann, who visited with Ayano-san.
While the scarecrows showcase the issue of rural communities disappearing as people move to large cities, the dolls have actually provided a lifeline to the small village, bringing in a small amount of tourist trade each year.
Nagoro is located on Rte 439 between the towns of Otoyo and Kamiyama.