Japanese Village of the Dolls

Marcus Roberts
16 January 2015
Reproduced with Permission
Demography is Destiny

From the weird, creepy and yet true file (a very bulky file) comes today's blogpost story. Japan, as we have talked about many times before (you can search these blogposts for yourself, they are all there in the archives) has a demographic problem. In short, its people are not having enough babies to sustain the current population. Further, the country is not prepared to allow large-scale migration and so the population succour that this approach brings other nations with low brithrates - mainly in Western Europe - is missed in Japan. As people are also living longer, the country is faced with a shrinking population and an ageing population. As the Guardian notes the Japanese population decline is getting worse:

"The country's skewed demographics were highlighted again recently in data showing that the number of newborn babies sank to a record low last year.

At 1.001 million births, the figure was the fourth record low in as many years, the health ministry said. The number of deaths in 2014 totalled 1.269 million, the fifth straight annual rise."

This means that the current population of around 128 million people is expected to fall below 100 million in 2046 and perhaps as low as 45 million in less than 100 years' time. By 2060, forty per cent of the population will be aged over 65 years old.

The population ageing and decline can be seen in all its starkness in small villages and towns over Japan, the cities still tend to grow as they suck up the young people from around the country. So, for example, the village of Nagoro on the Island of Shikoku has dwindled from 300 people a half century ago to just 35 today. This is not an isolated battle against depopulation either:

"The government estimates that the declining birthrate and rapid ageing have left more than 10,000 villages across Japan battling depopulation. Those that fail to attract new residents may one day resemble Nagoro, where another foundation of civic life, the primary school, closed two years ago."

Not all villages have the novel solution that Nagoro has stumbled across however. There, Tsukimi Ayano, aged 65, has made about 160 life sized dolls to "replace neighbours who have died or moved away". The Guardian report reads that they have been put in all sorts of places around the town:

"Children sit behind their desks in a classroom, gazes fixed on their teacher; a group of elderly people chat while they wait for the bus; on the riverbank, a teenage boy in a baseball cap leans against a pile of chopped wood."

Isn't that just a little bit eerie? I don't know if I'd like life sized reminders of all those who had died around the place. I would be constantly getting a fright as I noticed the dolls out of the corner of my eye. Ayano states that:

"'They bring back memories, particularly those based on people who have died,' Ayano said of the dolls, whose forms fill the spaces vacated by their human counterparts - checking produce at a vegetable stall, resting against a tree or waiting at the bus stop to travel to the nearest big town, 90 minutes away."

And yes, Ayano has a doll of her mother sitting in her home, which she greets every morning. Just because your village is dying doesn't mean that you have to be lonely…Go and have a look at the pictures in The Guardian article. I don't know about you, but I would be leaving that village for Osaka or Tokyo within minutes if I lived there.