Tokushima, Shikoku, Japan, North-East Asia, Asia

Getty Images/Lonely Planet Image


Top choice in Shikoku

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 (, 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.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Shikoku attractions

1. Oku Iya Ni-jū Kazura-bashi

2.19 MILES

Away from the crowds and tour buses, the spectacular Oku Iya Ni-jū Kazura-bashi are two secluded vine bridges hanging side by side high over the river…

2. Higashi Iya History & Folk Museum

6.86 MILES

This folk museum is in a large red building in Kyōjō, right by the main road. It displays historic artefacts and daily-use tools of the valley, as well as…

3. Buke Yashiki

7.46 MILES

Several kilometres up a narrow, winding road near Kyōjō, Buke Yashiki is a restored thatched-roof samurai-house museum commanding spectacular views of the…

4. Kazura-bashi

10.95 MILES

This remarkable vine bridge is one of only three left in the valley – the other two are further east in Higashi Iya. Unfortunately this one has been…

5. Peeing Boy Statue

12.78 MILES

The Iya Valley's famous statue of a boy peeing into the gorge is turning 50! Put in place in 1968, 'Peeing Boy' has been photographed urinating into the…

6. Lapis Ōboke

15.28 MILES

Lapis Ōboke is a geology and local yōkai (ghost) museum. There are interesting rocks on display, but the reason to stop is to get acquainted with the…

7. Temple 66: Unpen-ji

21.38 MILES

Unpen-ji, aptly meaning 'Temple of the Surrounding Clouds', is the highest of the 88 Temples at 900m. Surprisingly, it actually sits in Tokushima…

8. Ryūga-dō

23.54 MILES

This popular cave has some interesting stalactites and stalagmites, and traces of prehistoric habitation. The route gets quite steep in places. Visitors…