Visiting Nagoro Doll Village in Iya Valley, Japan

Life size dolls outside at Nagoro Doll Village in Iya Valley Shikoku, Japan

Visiting Nagoro Doll Village in Iya Valley, Shikoku, Japan

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Did you know there is a village in Japan where dolls outnumber the people 10 to 1? This place is called Nagoro Village, also known as Nagoro Doll Village or Kakashi no Sato. We first found out about Nagoro Doll Village when we were looking at the vine bridges of the Iya Valley in Shikoku. Since we were so close we knew we had to drive by to see this unique place to visit in Japan. 

Where is the Nagoro Doll Village? 

Vine Bridges of the Iya Valley

Vine Bridges of the Iya Valley

The Nagoro Doll Village is located in the Iya Valley within the Shikoku Prefecture of Japan. The Iya Valley is a remote mountainous area in Shikoku that is well known for the vine bridges that were formerly used by the Heike clan who fled to the mountains after being defeated by the Genji clan in the late 12th century. 

How to Get to Nagoro Doll Village 

Because of the remoteness of the Iya Valley, the best way to get to Nagoro Doll Village (and the Iya Valley) is by car. The Nagoro Doll Village is located on Route 439 in the Iya Valley near Mt. Tsurugi.

If you are wanting an alternate means of reaching Nagoro Doll Village then there are a few route options via bus but they take far longer than driving and the route is infrequent so you’ll have to time it perfectly. One route is from JR Oboke Station where you can take the Iya Line bus to Kubo. The journey costs ¥1240 and takes about 1 hour and has roughly 48 stops. From the Kubo bus stop, you will then take another bus to Nagoro which costs ¥230 and takes about 30 minutes. Route from Oboke Station to Kubo Station

One other way to get to Nagoro Doll Village is by taking a private tour. Iya Valley Tours is a company that will pick up you and your party from any Iya Valley hotel location or from Oboke Station. In this tour, they will take you to a number of popular sites including Nagoro Village, the vine bridges, the peeing boy statue, and other highlights. The tour takes around 6.5 hours and costs ¥44,500 for a small taxi (1-3 people) and ¥59,500 for a jumbo taxi (3-8 people).

For a less expensive tour, you can also consider hiring a private taxi to take you to the sights in the Iya Valley. Kazurabashi Taxi Tours allows you to create your own route and has small taxis for ¥4380 per hour or jumbo taxis for ¥6620 per hour. The pick-up location is from JR Oboke Station.

READ MORE: A Complete Guide to Driving in Japan

History of Nagoro Doll Village 

In Nagoro, the remote mountain village in the Iya Valley there was once a community of 300 people, but over the years that population declined to less than 30. In 2002, Tsukimi Ayano, who once lived in Nagoro decided to move back in order to take care of her elderly father. 

While there, she decided to plant some vegetables in the garden but was having trouble with birds so she decided to make a kakashi (scarecrow) that resembled her father and placed it in the field by their home to deter pests. However, the meaning behind the kakashi soon changed.

Ayano came up with the idea to create effigies of former residents of Nagoro as a way of commemorating them. She has now made over 300 dolls of which many resemble former Nagoro residents and others including famous people from Japan and around the world and some she invented herself. Each of the dolls has its own facial expressions, personality, and story that makes them unique.

When a doll is completed they are dressed in clothes, shoes, and accessories that belonged to residents of Nagoro or came from a resale shop. From what we gathered each doll lasts roughly two years when kept outside in the elements and is then replaced with a new resident. 

While it may seem creepy, the meaning behind these dolls is actually quite comforting. Their purpose is to combat loneliness within the village. In an interview with the New York Times, Ayano stated that as she drives around the town or through the mountains to go to a store she finds them comforting her and the few residents of Nagoro shared in that sentiment.

Within Nagoro you will find the kakashi everywhere mimicking everyday life. In fact, you might mistake some dolls for actual people, and vice versa. One of the most interesting spots to stop at in Nagoro is the village school which closed in 2012. Within the school, you’ll find a classroom full of dolls that resemble children and their teacher. I also found it interesting that many of the dolls were performing different tasks around the village such as working in fields, fishing, doing road work, or waiting at a bus stop. 

Although we visited during the summer we were told that on the first Sunday of October, there is a festival in Nagoro that exhibits the kakashi and Ayano’s other artwork. There are different themes each year so be sure to check that out if you happen to visit in October. 

While we didn’t have the chance to meet the legend herself, we so greatly admire the work, dedication, and thoughtfulness that was behind every kakashi creation that is done by Tsukimi Ayano and we’re hopeful that this tradition will continue throughout the years.

Location: 629番地5 Higashiiyasugeoi, Miyoshi, Tokushima 778-0201, Japan // MAP

READ MORE: The Ultimate Japan Bucket List

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