Name In Japanese: 綾野月見
Pronunciation: ayano tsukimi
Period: 1950 to current
Nagoro in Oku-Iya, Tokushima is now known around the world as the Valley of Dolls, or the Valley of Scarecrows. The person behind this global fame is Ayano Tsukimi, a very unassuming resident of this remote village.
Tsukimi grew up in Nagoro when it was a populous town with its own school full of young pupils. During her secondary school years, she moved to Osaka with her parents. She married and had children in Osaka, while her parents eventually returned to Nagoro. After her mother died, Tsukimi moved back in 2002 to look after her father. By that time, the population of Shikoku had already collapsed, with young people moving inexorably to the cities, deaths exceeding births, and necessary services gradually being curtailed.
Back in quiet Nagoro, Tsukimi began growing her own vegetables, but the crows were a nuisance. To give them something to think about, she made a scarecrow that looked like her father and put it in her garden. She was very surprised to see that her neighbours would mistake the scarecrow for her real father and call out “Konnichiwa!”.
As her neighbours died one after another, Tsukimi began to commemorate them with scarecrows. These caught the attention of foreign travellers and then journalists, and thanks to the power of the internet, a little boom was born.
Tsukimi has made several hundred of her scarecrows. It takes about three days to make one. The face is made with stretchy cloth stuffed with batting. This cloth is pinched by sewing to create the main features, and the eyes are buttons. Rolled up newspapers and wire form the arms, legs and torso. To keep the dolls from rotting immediately, they’re dressed in waterproof clothing, followed by the outer clothes that define their ‘personality’. Then it’s time for the ‘person’ to take up their position in the village, and pose for visitors’ photographs.
When Nagoro’s scarecrows became an internet phenomenon, Tokushima Prefecture asked Tsukimi to give workshops. Prefectural workers spent their weekends learning how to make Nagoro dolls. Like some sort of zombie apocalypse, the scarecrows began to multiply, first within Tokushima, and then throughout Shikoku. They’ve even been seen as far from Nagoro as Matsuyama. Alex Kerr, an art critic and collector who did a lot to bring Iya to the world’s attention, says that at first, he dismissed these scarecrows as kitsch. But when their fame spread throughout the world, and they began to spread physically around Shikoku, he realised that they were a ‘genuine art form’.
If you visit Nagoro and wander its few pathways, there’s a good chance that you’ll encounter Tsukimi herself, and be invited into her amazing house. She’ll thank you for visiting, and hope you’ll come again.
Media enquiries should be directed to Miyoshi City Tourist Information.