Meet the Ghost Dolls of Japan

RealClear Contributor


For years, one of the last residents of Nagoro, Japan has devoted her time to making life-sized straw dolls of the people who used to live here. Somehow, it’s touching and a little terrifying all at once.

Get Way Off the Grid

You'll find Nagoro in Shikoku, Japan. This small village is isolated and remote, driving the people who were born here to leave and seek out new adventures and opportunities.

A Real Ghost Town

All those departures turned Nagoro into a ghost town with an ever-shrinking population. But some residents still remain here...after a fashion.

Memories of the Past

Ayao Tsukimi is a former and current resident of Nagoro. She left her village and returned many years later to find that many of the people she remembered were gone.

The New Residents

But not forgotten. Tsukimi has devoted her time to repopulating Nagoro, but not in any traditional sense. She's filling the empty town up with dolls.

The First Doll

It all started innocently enough. She made a scarecrow to keep birds out of her garden, and decided to make the doll look like her father.

The Big Idea

That's when she got the big idea to begin recreating people she once knew.

The Dolls We Live With

The straw dolls are posed to mimic everyday life. So when you walk through the village and see a group gathered together on a bench, look twice. They might just be inanimate.

Not So Empty Town

There's a school room populated with children, books open and facing front so they can see the teacher at the head of the room.

The Tributes

They are scattered throughout the town, life-sized reminders of the real people who used to live here.

The Process

Tsukimi makes her dolls out of straw and old clothing, and she has to replace them regularly because they wear out over time.

Get a Look at the Valley of the Dolls

You can always go into the remote valleys of Japan to see this interesting little village in person, but it's also possible to see many of the figures using Google Street View. 

Current Population, Living and Doll

There are about 350 dolls living in the village currently, more than the number of flesh-and-blood people in Nagoro. The current population is right around 35 as of January 2015.


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