There is a remote village on Shikoku Island in Japan, two hours up mountain roads, where as the population dwindled, this one lady decided to start making scarecrows to replace them. The result is a place spanning perhaps only two or three blocks, where the abandoned school is instead filled with students forever frozen in time and construction workers tend to a project that will never be finished.
The first thing building you encounter upon arriving in Nagoro is their town hall. A handwritten sign taped to the door tells you “Come in!” but otherwise, no sign of human life. A lady is peeking in from the outside; apparently she didn’t get the memo. Turns out it’s the lady herself (or rather crowself), Ayano Tsukimi!
On the table were guestbooks you could sign, with messages from all over the world, even as far away as Germany.
The next stop was the now-defunct Nagoro Elementary School. In front stood an excavator, dirty and rusted, yet with a full tank of gas and the key still in the ignition. Creepy.
The gym was filled with seemingly more adults than students.
There was even a foreigner corner, perhaps past travelers who got stuck overnight. Adding to the “where did everyone go” vibe, there was still sports equipment in the closet.
Looks like everyone was actually gathered for a wedding. Who gets married in a gym?
The center of town was the tourist reception.
I was even interviewed by the local reporter.
Get out of here, kid! The place is haunted!
Over one-tenth of the town’s human population was out and about– that is, two old ladies conversing in their driveway. We asked where the bathroom was and one of them graciously let us use the one in her house. We also saw Ayano herself up in her house as she was sweeping, but sadly it was cordoned off with a sign saying “Visitors not permitted due to coronavirus.”
According to the town’s own brochure, Ayano lived in Osaka most of her life, and came back to Nagoro to take care of her ailing father. When he passed away, she made a scarecrow in his likeness for their field. She thought it was charming that people would come by and greet it, so as more people started to move or pass away, she started making more scarecrows to make the town feel a little livelier. The population now stands at 27 humans and 300 scarecrows. She plans to keep doing this for as long as she can, and every month she holds a scarecrow-making workshop while every October there is a scarecrow festival. I hope to return one day, and who knows, maybe my blog posts will suddenly stop and a scarecrow looking uncannily like me will just pop up somewhere.
Two years ago, two major things happened: Nagoya, the capital city of Aichi Prefecture, was voted the least appealing city in Japan (or rather, it was ranked lowest among the major cities for its appeal). Then, in April, another stunning revelation to the world– the opening of freaking LEGOLAND Japan, and really the main reason I decided to head up to Nagoya for the weekend.
Just like the city that houses it, Legoland has had a pretty beleaguered reputation, presumably mainly because tickets used to cost near 6900 yen ($69), despite the park being just 23 acres square. For comparison, Tokyo Disneyland is 115 acres, and a ticket there costs 7500 yen. It’s also freaking Disneyland and should not cost just under ten more dollars than Legoland. Also, Legoland opens at 10 AM and closes at 5 PM. That’s right, F I V E P O S T M E R I D I E M
Anyways, highlights included a LEGO factory tour, which ended with you receiving your own special commemorative brick– did you know that Lego bricks made in 2020 will still fit ones made in 1958? Cool!
Naturally, the main highlight was definitely Miniland, where you can find scale models of many famous Japanese as well as Nagoyan landmarks. It’s all there– Tokyo Skytree, Osaka’s Dotonburi River, many of Kyoto’s famous temples and shrines, and other Japanese crap. Akashi Kaikyo Bridge was sadly not represented, despite being the longest suspension bridge in the world.
Not sure how it is in other Legolands, but only Japanese landmarks and scenery were represented. But hey, I’m not going to Legoland Japan to see a miniature Eiffel Tower or Statue of Liberty or something.
All in all, I’d say Legoland is certainly worth visiting once, if you are interested in Lego at all, and yeah, though the park is indeed tiny you could comfortably spend opening to closing hours in the park. The rides were pretty kiddy but still enjoyable; the main attractions were definitely the scenery. And let’s not forget the cute Lego food!
As for the rest of Nagoya, I agree with Stanzi in that it certainly gets an unfair shake among the rest of its metropolitan brethren– it is certainly a living, breathing city with lots of exciting things to do. Another VERY cool thing we checked out was the…
SCMAGLEV and Railway Park
Trains are, of course, a huge part of your life in Japan. Their reputation for punctuality is no exaggeration: there was one week where the trains in my area were weirdly, consistently 2-3 minutes late every day. Then, when I was synchronizing my watch, I realized that… my watch had been running 3 minutes fast all week. The SCMAGLEV Museum, dedicated to those holy electric snakes, is one of the biggest I’ve been to in Japan, roughly the size of a warehouse, big enough to have 39 full-size train cars on its floor!!
Trains from throughout history are featured, all the way from the late 19th century smokestacks to the latest and greatest bullet trains.
They were all fully preserved and completely enter-able, and it was really interesting to see the little things that changed throughout history, such as the post-WW2 trains having ashtrays in every row and mounted bottle openers since everything was still in glass bottles, and heck, even the toilets changed. Seems like soap and non-squat toilets never made it into Japanese train bathrooms until about the 1970s. Yikes.
Exhibits abound, from replica food in dining cars to fake ticket gates where you can print out your own ticket and go through, complete with fake timeboards, and even SIMULATORS where you can play the role of a Shinkansen operator or a local conductor in control of opening and closing the doors. Unfortunately, by the time we had arrived they were all out for the day, so we didn’t get to check them out. I absolutely want to go back. We were there for only one and a half hours, but I could’ve easily spent a few more hours there. By the way, I am by no means a fanatic about trains or anything, but if you have even the vaguest interest in or appreciation for them then this was, by far, my favorite non-art museum I’ve been to in Japan.
As for the rest of Nagoya, well… it is a Japanese city. It comes with all the neat things that nearly all Japanese cities have, that is good nightlife, temples and shrines certainly worth checking out, massive multi-story shopping malls, arcades abound, and their own specialty food. For Nagoya, it’s sweet sesame sauce-slathered fried chicken, called tebasaki karaage, and miso sauce poured over tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet). Delicious!