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A village in Japan has four times as many scarecrows as people. And it's all thanks to one woman — and more than a decade of work.
Tsukimi Ayano said she made her first scarecrow 13 years ago in the likeness of her father as a tribute to him after his death. Since then, she's made more than 350 life-sized dolls but, like their human counterparts, they don't last forever, so about 150 of them remain in Nagoro, a village in southern Japan.
Still, with a population of 35, the scarecrows outnumber the people in Nagoro by a good amount, acting as replacements for those who have died or moved away.
"When I was 20 there were around 150 people here. Now there are around 30 or so, it’s maybe a fifth," said a Nagoro resident. The trend mirrors that of Japan as a whole, which had a population of 128.06 million in 2010, but is expected to drop below 100 million by 2054, at the latest, according to the country's National Institute of Population and Social Security Research. Japan's population in 2010 was 128.06 million, according to the institute, which partially blames plunging birth rates for the decline. The number of children under the age of 15 in Japan has already tumbled from 27 million in the early 1980s to 16.84 million in 2010, according to Japan's census.
In Nagoro's school, which closed down in 2012 after its last two students graduated, scarecrows sit in desks, their button eyes fixated on a scarecrow teacher positioned at the chalkboard.
"It's indeed something to bring back memories," Osamu Suzuki, a 68-year-old resident, told Reuters.
Ayano, who is one of the village's youngest residents at the age of 65, said she plans to keep making the scarecrows as long as she is healthy.
"I enjoy it," she said adding that her goal is to "make them more life-like, so when people look at them they have to look twice and say: 'Oh, that wasn't a person!'"
— Elisha Fieldstadt