Japan: Woman Fills Village With Life-Size Dolls
The very tiny village of , located on Shikoku Island, has far more dolls than it does people. After returning to her home town from Osaka nearly 11 years ago, 64-year-old woman has taken to hand making hundreds of life-size dolls. One of the 37 last remaining residents remaining, she fills the village with these dolls.These life-size dolls, ranging from grandparents to children and teachers, remember past inhabitants who have either passed away or left the village in search of employment opportunities in Japan’s larger cities like Osaka or Tokyo. In Tsukimi’s efforts, these dolls have attracted artists and photographers from all around the world, bringing with them their deep curiosity to explore the village’s unique existence amid its beautiful surrounding landscape.
In a new documentary titled The Valley of Dolls by German filmmaker Fritz Schumann, Tsukimi explains how she started out by originally making a scarecrow in the likeness of her father for farming purposes, but over time her motivation changed, and she eventually started making more and more dolls. As she began to fill the town with these life-size dolls, she found that the nearly empty village seemed less lonely with them around.
While many visitors who make their way to the village find these life-size dolls eerie, others from Japan and abroad simply see the gesture as a sad reminder of the old village’s transition throughout the years from a commercialized, industrial area with a large company to support the local population to a mere isolated ghost town with vacated buildings. The dolls fill any guest in town with a nostalgic feeling of the past, along with awakening views about existence, industrialization, and death.
When addressing the fact that others deemed her doll-making activities “creepy,” she responded that she has no taste for “weird or creepy dolls. They are simply meant to blend in with the scenic location as their human counterparts would have done,” she said. In the first part of the documentary, she explains how when she makes dolls that look like dead people, she thinks about them “when they were alive and healthy.” She goes on to explain how she feels that the dolls are like her children.
She especially enjoys creating grandmothers’ faces, claiming to be particularly talented in making their faces very life like. Making the lips, Tsukimi states that the material needs to be altered just right, or they would appear to look angry. Because the dolls are left outside, and are exposed to all kinds of weather conditions, the dolls usually last around three years before she needs to replace each one. Using old clothes, rags and hay, she continues to produce the life-size dolls, adding to her vast collection of over 350 dolls.
According to Ken Osetroff, director of a travel company, travelers going to Japan can now book tour packages that include a trip to Nagoro to see the dolls during the autumn season. Since Nagoro cannot be located on a map, it has become a very challenging place to get to for travelers, and will most likely be abandoned due to older residents passing away, as well as the remaining younger people leaving.
However, thanks to recent media coverage of the village in Japan, Tsukimi is delighted to see human faces in Nagoro again, aside from her life-size companions. Because she lives surrounded by frozen faces stuck in time, Tsukimi finds herself pondering such complex topics such as existence and mortality. The 64-year-old woman who fills the village with lifeless dolls jokingly remarks in the video regarding her own inevitable death: “I will probably live on forever.”
By Scott Gaudinier
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The only place in Japan dedicated to the history of body ink is the Yokohama Tattoo Museum.
Packed with venerable tools, prints and photographs, it catalogs the turbulent development of Japanese tattooing, including a large display of the numerous historic prohibitions against the art form. Other exhibits detail the inked cultures of Okinawa and Hokkaido, as well as Taiwan where, in the early 20th century with the island under Japanese rule, tribal tattooing was outlawed primarily to eradicate the associated custom of headhunting.
Featured in many international guidebooks, the museum is popular among overseas visitors. However, despite the government’s campaigns to tout Cool Japan, the museum — not to mention Japanese tattooing in general — remains missing from the official tourist trail.
“The authorities think tattooing is equated with the yakuza and so they believe tattooing is bad,” Horiyoshi III, the museum’s founder — and arguably the most famous tattooist in the nation — tells The Japan Times in an interview at his studio.
Although Horiyoshi respects the yakuza — citing their relief efforts for Tohoku communities following the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami — he said the government’s assessment is out of touch with reality.
“In the past, a lot of yakuza used to get tattoos but nowadays that number has dropped significantly,” he says.
The stream of clients he worked on during this interview supported his assertion. Factory workers and construction laborers all addressed Horiyoshi in hyperpolite honorifics before bowing and lying down for him to ink another section of their works in progress — some of which can take more than 100 hours to complete.
After each 45-minute session was over, Horiyoshi swaddled his clients in cling film and began setting up for the next customer. The nonstop process — reminiscent of an assembly line — belied the true artistry of his work. Each one of Horiyoshi’s tattoos is as carefully constructed as a haiku poem, from the season of the flowers to the historical accuracy of the swords and kimonos, depicted in his designs.
During his four-decade career, Horiyoshi has tattooed around 7,000 people and witnessed countless changes in motifs and equipment; the one constant has been the authorities’ relentless hostility toward tattooing. However, Horiyoshi foresees a paradigm shift on the horizon.
“When the 2020 Olympics come to Tokyo, many tattooed athletes will visit from overseas. Will foreign (tattooed) swimmers be banned from training in pools? If they are allowed to enter but not (tattooed) Japanese people, that will be a form of discrimination,” he says. “How will the public react?”
Whatever changes the future brings, Horiyoshi is confident of one thing.
“No matter how many times the government tries to prohibit tattooing, it will never disappear,” he says. “To receive and to give tattoos is a human instinct.”