In the Japanese Village of Nagaro, Dolls Outnumber the Human Residents

Rosemary Giles
Photo Credit: Carl Court / Getty Images
Photo Credit: Carl Court / Getty Images

The small village of Nagoro, Japan, has a truly unique population. Although there are still human inhabitants in the town, there are approximately 10 times more dolls. Over 350 of them were created by a local artist, Tsukimi Ayano, to resemble real people. They can be found all over the village, which led to it becoming a fascinating tourist attraction.

Nagoro, Japan

Nagoro, now better known as the Village of the Dolls, is located on the island of Shikoku in Japan. As with many similar places on the island, the population has declined drastically in recent years.

View looking down at the village of Nagoro across a river, covered in snow.
View looking down at Nagoro, Japan, home to numerous dolls, March 16, 2019. (Photo Credit: Kazuhiro Nogi/ AFP/ Getty Images)

This is happening all over the country, but it is especially noticeable here as there were never a large number of villagers to begin with. Once there were roughly 300 inhabitants, but by September 2019, that number had dropped to 27.

Aging population

As of 2020, Japan as a whole had 35 million people over the age of 65, a staggering 29 percent of their total population. This number is only expected to grow further, reaching about 35 percent by the year 2040.

Dolls made to look like an elderly couple lean against each other in front of a wall.
Nagoro dolls made to look like an elderly couple stand in front of an abandoned house, April 22, 2016. (Photo Credit: Carl Court/ Getty Images)

Many Nagoro citizens fall into this category, which is why you can often drive through the town and not see a single real person, only the dolls.

Tsukimi Ayano

The dolls were created by artist Tsukimi Ayano as a way to help combat loneliness among those who remained in Nagoro. She lived in the area when she was younger but moved away with her family, like so many others.

Tsukimi Ayano sitting on her knees while sewing the head of a doll.
Tsukimi Ayano, the artist responsible for the Nagoro dolls, March 16, 2019. (Photo Credit: Kazuhiro Nogi/ AFP/ Getty Images)

It was in the early 2000s that she decided to move back to help care for her aging father, who still lived there. The first doll she ever created was in his likeness, which she placed in one of the village fields.


These dolls are called kakashi, which translates to scarecrows in English. Ayano makes them from various materials, including newspapers, cotton, straw, wire, and paint.

Dolls that look like children sitting at two school desks.
Dolls in the Nagoro school sitting at their desks, March 16, 2019. (Photo Credit: Kazuhiro Nogi/ AFP/ Getty Images)

They are then put into human clothing. Supposedly it takes her three days to make one of her creations, a relatively quick turnaround considering they are all life-sized.

Recreating the past

Although the dolls are made of old clothing stuffed with straw, like a typical scarecrow, they aren’t intended to protect the crops.

Doll with crossed legs sits on the bank of a river.
One of the Nagoro dolls sitting on the bank of the river, April 22, 2016. (Photo Credit: Carl Court/ Getty Images)

Many of them, like Ayano’s doll of her father, were created to look like people from Nagoro who had died or moved away from the village. They help make it look like the area is lived in and thriving.

Placed around the village

Since Ayano started this project, she has put together over 400 dolls. Some of them act as replacements when others get damaged, while 350 “live” permanently in various spots around the town.

Group of dolls placed on the front porch of a building.
A group of Nagoro dolls placed on a porch in the village, March 16, 2019. (Photo Credit: Kazuhiro Nogi/ AFP/ Getty Images)

They can be found in a variety of places: sitting at a bus shelter, by the river, in the middle of the fields, working in gardens, enjoying the view from the porch of buildings, and even inside the abandoned school.

No more children

It may seem strange that the only school in Nagoro is completely abandoned, but this also has to do with the drastically shrinking population.

Doll sitting in front of a classroom blackboard with writing on it.
A life-size doll depicting a teacher at the Nagoro elementary school, March 16, 2019. (Photo Credit: Kazuhiro Nogi/ AFP/ Getty Images)

Over 18 years ago, the last child was born in the village. With no more births since then, it didn’t make sense for the school to remain open. The school, which once ran until sixth grade, closed in 2012 after its last two students graduated.

A cheerful place

Thanks to Ayano, the school was filled up once more with children, even if they were dolls. She said, “I wish there were more children because it would be more cheerful. So I made the children.”

Aerial view looking down at a gym with child sized dolls placed around the room.
Some of the Nagoro dolls which have been placed in the gym of the local elementary school, March 16, 2019. (Photo Credit: Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/ Getty Images)

They are spread throughout the building. Some of them can be seen playing sports in the gymnasium, while others are posed behind desks in the classrooms. Ayano has created more than 40 dolls for this location alone.

Special students

There were even dolls created in the likeness of teachers to sit in the classrooms as well. Two of the school dolls are more special than the others, as they were made by the last two students to graduate.

Two dolls swing in a hammock over green grass.
Two dolls swinging in a handmade hammock in the village of Nagoro, April 22, 2016. (Photo Credit: Carl Court/ Getty Images)

When the students finished their schooling there, Ayano helped them make their own dolls that looked just like them. They then dressed them in their own clothes, and the dolls were placed in the school.

A memorial

There are many other dolls in the village that were made in honor of former citizens. Ayano told NPR that she has made many like this, including one named Miyako Ogata.

Doll in a red jacket pulling a cart behind it.
Nagoro doll pulling a cart through one of the village fields, March 16, 2019. (Photo Credit: Kazuhiro Nogi/ AFP/ Getty Images)

She said, “she’s a grandmother who passed away two years ago. But she used to sit like that in front of the house, so I made the figure exactly like her (…) it feels like she’s still here.”

Made-up characters

While some of the kakashi were made to look like former Nagoro villagers and students, there are others that Ayano created just for the fun of it. Many of them have been placed in special scenes, like weddings.

Dolls seated in a garden.
Dolls placed in the garden outside one of the abandoned houses in Nagoro, April 22, 2016. (Photo Credit: Carl Court/ Getty Images)

Many of these characters have their own names that the artist gave them, making them just as much part of this village of dolls as the remaining people.

A tourist attraction

Despite Nagoro being a small and primarily deserted town, it has become extremely popular with tourists who, thanks to the internet, heard about the Village of the Dolls. Ayano said, “Before I started making scarecrows, nobody stopped by. Now many people visit here…I hope Nagoro will become lively again and many people come here for sightseeing.”

Group of dolls standing and sitting in a wooden shelter with Tsukimi Ayano walking in front.
Tsukimi Ayano walking in front of an abandoned grocery shop decorated with life-size dolls in Nagoro, March 16, 2019. (Photo Credit: Kazuhiro Nogi/ AFP/ Getty Images)

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Although they can be seen anytime, Ayano puts on a special dolls festival in the town, which draws many tourists. By now, the dolls so drastically outnumber the humans in the village that Nagoro is a very unique, if not somewhat creepy, destination to visit.