As Japan’s population ages, towns all over the country and especially in remote rural areas are quickly disappearing, or at least the people that inhabit them are. It is becoming more common to find abandoned villages from Hokkaido all the way down to Kagoshima, which have now become tourist destinations in their own right.
Deep inside the heart of the Iya Valley nestled in the mountains of Tokushima Prefecture, one of the few remaining residents of Nagoro Village 名頃集落, has been trying to hold on to the memory of past residents by making human-like scarecrows and spreading them along the road and around the empty houses, as if to make the village come alive again.
For travelers who have the chance to make the trip along the winding Road 439 up to Nagoro, the experience results in mix feelings. Some find it scary while others love the encounter with the scarecrows. In either case, the trip to Nagoro Village and the stroll among the numerous scarecrows is mesmerizing.
The experience at Nagoro begins right from the moment you reach the village. As you slowly drive up the road you naturally start looking for an open store to visit or a resident to guide you direct you through the town but here you find none. Right away, you are greeted by a couple of scarecrows which can easily pass for the residents who used to live in the village. The first encounter is, in fact, a bit chilling, but the scarecrows are so well done that the chill turns into curiosity; you’ll want to park the car at the end of the village and go greet all of the dolls.
The scarecrow population in Nagaro is the work of Tsukimi Ayano, a local resident who over a decade ago started with just one doll that was actually intended to keep birds away and looked just like her father. Seeing the reaction of other residents who greeted this first doll, she was encouraged to keep making them and in a way keep the village’s memory from fading away like the residents were.
As you make your way down the central road and wander off into the unpaved paths, you surely begin to imagine what life was like in this remote village. Farmers preparing the rice fields for the new spring season, couples hanging about and chatting about their day’s activities, and everyone, in general, going on about their business. Is like an outdoor museum of the slow-paced and joyful life in the Iya Valley. Nowadays, with the scarecrow village drawing in more international attention, there are even some foreign characters added to the lineup of figures like the tall and welcoming blonde American with a strong resemblance to Donal Trump.
You’ll find Nagoro Village and its scarecrows about an hour drive east of Oboke Gorge roadside station on your way to Oku-Iya Niju Kazura Bashi, one of the areas famous vine bridges. And if you plan your visit for October, the village holds a scarecrow festival around the first week of the month to showcase Ayano-san’s work.