Living with scarecrows in a ghost town

Tsukimi Ayano stitches a scarecrow girl at her home in Nagoro, Japan.  

This village deep in the rugged mountains of southern Japan once was home to hundreds of families. Now, only 35 people remain, outnumbered three-to-one by scarecrows that seamstress Tsukimi Ayano crafted to help fill the days and replace neighbours who died or moved away.

At 65, Ms. Ayano is one of the younger residents of Nagoro. She moved back from Osaka to look after her 85-year-old father after decades away.

“They bring back memories,” Ms. Ayano said of the life-sized dolls crowded into corners of her farmhouse home, perched on fences and trees, huddled side-by-side at a produce stall, the bus stop, anywhere a living person might stop to take a rest.

“That old lady used to come and chat and drink tea. That old man used to love to drink sake and tell stories. It reminds me of the old times, when they were still alive and well,” she said.

Dwindling population

Even more than its fading status as an export superpower, Japan’s dwindling population may be its biggest challenge. More than 10,000 towns and villages in Japan are depopulated, the homes and infrastructure crumbling as the countryside empties thanks to the falling birthrate and rapid aging.

Neither Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party nor any of its rivals have figured out how to “revive localities,” an urgent issue that has perplexed Japanese leaders for decades.

But some communities are trying out various strategies for attracting younger residents, slowing if not reversing their decline. In Kamiyama, another farming community closer to the regional capital of Tokushima, community organisers have mapped out a strategy for attracting artists and high-tech companies.

Nagoro is more typical of the thousands of communities that are turning into ghost towns or at best, open-air museums, frozen in time a trend evident even in downtown Tokyo and in nearly or completely empty villages in the city’s suburbs.

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Printable version | May 14, 2021 5:14:18 PM |

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