Innumerable ingredients go into a memorable trip. Sometimes, terror is one of them. For a truly creepy travel spot to remember, look no further than the Shikoku valleys of Japan. There sits the village of Nagoro, where all the inhabitants are slowly being replaced by life-sized scarecrows.When artist Tsukimi Ayano returned to her childhood village of Nagoro, most of her neighbors had either perished or moved to larger cities. Nagoro is as remote as they come: the local school, was shut down in 2012 after its only two students graduated. Ayano’s sorrow eventually blossomed into an unconventional art installation. One day, she found herself putting together a life-sized scarecrow for her garden, modeled after her late father. It was then that she thought of making similar scarecrows for all of the absent or recently deceased inhabitants of Nagoro. Today, the village’s population of 350+ scarecrows outnumbers its fewer than 30 living members. Consequently, Nagoro is one of the strangest Japanese cultural gems, and a truly creepy travel spot for the adventurous.
Ayano states that most of the scarecrows are requests from surviving family members who wanted a reminder of their loved ones. Towards that end, she constructs the scarecrows to resemble their dead counterparts. After they are knit and dressed in second-hand clothing, Ayano installs them around the village. She positions them to appear in the middle of whatever activity that person was known for. So, a stroll through Nagoro reveals motionless anglers leaning over fishing rods that will never catch anything. Benches hold groups of life-sized dolls huddled together, waiting for buses that no longer frequent those roads. Perhaps most eerie are the school’s classrooms, where stitched children sit in desks facing their silent mannequin instructors.
To make matters more sinister, some consider Nagoro a reflection of what’s happening to the entire country of Japan. Due to low birthrates and strict immigration policies, critics expect the population to fall from 127 million to 87 million by 2060. Half of that population will be over the age of 65. Nagoro is a surreal mirror image of that dystopian future for the country. These layers of meaning and implication make the village an unforgettably creepy travel spot.
For more information, check out the haunting mini-documentary “Valley of the Dolls” below by Fritz Schumann. Also, here’s a great read about the folkloric significance of the Japanese ‘kakashi’ scarecrow.