Doll village in Japan, where 18 years ago there were no children

Japan’s aging population has left remote mountainous villages like Nagoro without children for the past 18 years. People have to make baby dolls instead.

In the village of Nagoro on the island of Shikoku, Japan , the last child was born here 18 years ago. There are currently only about 20 adults remaining. The village kindergarten closed in 2012, shortly after the last two students graduated from grade 6.

But recently,  Tsukimi Ayano has revived a forgotten elementary school. Ayano, 70, uses more than 40 life-sized, hand-made dolls to display on the school grounds, to recreate village life where there were still children.

“We can no longer see children here,” Ayano told the New York Times. “I wish there were more children here because it would be much more fun. So I created kids.”

The 350 dolls made here are more than the population of the village, about 10 times more. The doll is made of wood, stuffed with paper and donated from old clothes. They were arranged to recreate the scene of the village when it was still crowded. This has been considered a village festival for the past 7 years.

1-year-old Yukito Motokawa to visit her is  Kayoko Motokawa, 67 years old, who lives in Nagoro village. Even decades ago, the population here was only about 300 people. Shikoku is still the smallest and least populated of Japan’s four main islands.

In the years 1950-1960, this area mainly focused on exploiting forests, building roads and dams for hydroelectric plants. After the project was completed, many people left. Those who stayed lived on agriculture.

Now, to get to the nearest supermarket or hospital, residents of Nagoro have to drive an hour along narrow, winding roads. “You have to really enjoy life in the mountains to live here. I think many people will have a hard time,” said T atsuya Matsuura, 38, the youngest resident of Nagoro village.

Dolls are now placed everywhere in the village. An old lady doll looks after a roadside grave. The doll is lying on a wheelchair. The construction worker doll smokes a cigarette and waits at the bus stop. The father doll in the car carrying the kids …

“I don’t think the dolls are scary. I think this is a good way to bring the village back to life,” said Fanny Raynaud, 38, a nurse from France who is traveling in Nagoro.

Ms. Motokawa  said that it’s sad that Nagoro village is now known for its dolls, not because of the people who live there. “If it were real people, then this would be a really happy place,” she said.