3rd August 2015
My traveling companion Chad has a real knack for finding the most bizarre hidden gems in Japan.
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“Woah, that’s a weird little scarecrow”, I pointed out as we drove up on the entrance to another one road town, deep in the hills of Shikoku.
The grass on the side of the road was wildly overgrown, dotted with half collapsed sheds and almost hiding the child sized scarecrow clinging to the chain link fence of the abandoned looking local school.
As we proceeded down the road, we saw many shuttered buildings, and the only sign of life was an old man working on the engine of his truck. If you were to squint, however, the small village would look positively bustling; every corner, every building and every field had an assortment of lovingly crafted and well dressed scarecrows posed in myriad scenes of daily life.
A grandma holding her grandson close, children clambering up scaffolding, an old man waiting at the bus stop, and farmers pulling plows or towing carts full of goods (and other scarecrows).
A glossy laminated flyer on the bus stop told us that these were not just any scarecrows, but in fact stand ins for real people, who once lived in this dying town but either moved away or passed on.
I’m quite used to clambering through abandoned spaces and they don’t really give me the creeps, but hearing this detail put the town in a whole new and somewhat eerie light as we read real life birthdays and favourite foods of the figures before us.
A little research turns up the fact that this is all thanks to the efforts of one Tsukimi Ayano, who has now made over 100 of these scarecrows. Knowing that the town is being maintained by Ayano and her scarecrows as an off the beaten path tourist spot is a happy end to this story.
They are a direct reminder that this town was once a happy place, well loved, and well lived in. Without them, no one would stop there and it would go the way of so many other overgrown corners of rural Japan. These scarecrows keep that looming spectre at bay, at least for now.