Valley of Dolls: a Japanese Ghost Village

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  • With a low birthrate and an aging population the aftermath of the shrinking population is worse outside the big cities. In places where the next doctor is far away or entertainment is limited, it is not surprising that remote places like Nagoro city on Shikoku Island, Japan, have the number of citizens drastically decreasing too.

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    The charm of big cities is obvious: shopping centers everywhere, convenience stores nearby and most importantly, plenty of work opportunities and schools around. Or, at least more than in the countryside. One reason is that the number of younger generations moving away is numerous, leaving behind villages that grow smaller and smaller every day.

    More than a decade ago, a Japanese woman returned to her home in Nagoro city. Citizens continued to die or move away and coincidentally they had the idea to make dolls to replace the ones who departed. When making a scarecrow for her seeds that failed to grow, she discovered her skills of making human-sized dolls. Her first doll was supposed to resemble her father. She continued making dolls to replace those who have abandoned the village or died.

    They can be found waiting at the bus stop, sitting at schools and eagerly waiting for their lessons to begin, or even next to streets to attract visitors and make the lonely village a bit more lively.

    If you do not have the chance to come to Shikoku Island to visit Nagoro and the more than 350 dolls yourself, you can catch a glimpse of them on Google Street View.

    The 65-year-old Mrs. Ayano is married but her husband and daughter live far away in Osaka. She is living alone with her 84-year-old father in her family home.

    Beautiful and sad at the same time, the city of Nagoro and its current “citizens” are a strong reminder of mortality and how we should appreciate life and the world we live in.

    Fritz Schumann made this wonderful documentary you can watch here:

    Valley of Dolls from Fritz Schumann on Vimeo.

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