Art Kaleidoscope

Between art and craft

Weird dolls inhabiting Nagoro village

Weird dolls inhabiting Nagoro village

A husband and a wife. Weird dolls inhabiting Nagoro village

Weird dolls inhabiting Nagoro village
No Hallowe’en story can scare you more than the inhabitants of the real Japanese village of Nagoro, inhabited by weird life-size dolls of dead people. Slowly dying village, due to the natural death of its people, it is turning into a surreal puppet world of schoolchildren, teachers, and even a principal. Also, farmers working on the field, residents waiting for their bus at the bus stop, etc.
Everything in this scenery – a school, bus stop, field – handmade by a local craftswoman Ayano Tsukimi. She shares her thoughts and story in a 2014 documentary “The Valley Of Dolls” by Fritz Schumann.

farmers working on the field

A man doll in the field

The story told by creator of dolls, Japanese craftswoman Ayano Tsukimi:
When I make dolls of dead people, I think about them when they were alive and healthy. Also, the dolls are like my children. In my childhood, there was a dam here, a big company and hundreds of people used to live here. And now there are only 37 people living here and more dolls. Maybe a time will come when I outlive all the people in the village.

I came back 11 years ago from Osaka, and started making the dolls around 10 years ago. Didn’t have much to do, I planted seeds, but none of them sprouted. So, I thought we need scarecrows, and made one doll which looked like my father. However, I never thought it would turn into this… The number of dolls I’ve made… about 350.

In fact, the facial expressions is the hardest part. The lips are difficult – a little tweak and they can look angry. Meanwhile, I am very good at making grandmothers – I pull the strings in the mouth and they smile.
In the old school that shut down two years ago there were two students and one teacher. Now I’ve made the students, teachers and principal. My mother died early. If she were alive today, I would like to take her out to places.

All I think about – are my dolls, and I don’t make weird dolls, but people who blend into the scenery. Thought people will get interested and take photos if I put dolls at the entrance of the valley. So, I put them in the field, doing work, or waiting for the bus.

Not everybody likes my dolls, I think. If they don’t say it directly, some may feel frightened, because they look so real. The dolls don’t live as long as humans, they can live up to three years max. Generally, I don’t think about death, but it takes 90 minutes to get to a proper hospital. So while something hasn’t happened yet, I have made a doll based on myself. Every day she watches the pot and the fire. She is taking a nap now. I don’t think dying is scary, I’ll probably live on forever.

According to Tsukimi, she started her craft by accident. She planted seeds, but none of them sprouted, so she decided to make a scarecrow which would look like her father. Then came an idea to recreate the village residents she used to know. In particular, she uses straw, fabric, and old clothes to create her dolls. Besides, she often replaces worn out dolls.

Weird dolls inhabiting Nagoro village