When traveling, there are “wow!” places, and then there are “whoa!” places. In the former, you’re astonished and delighted that this place exists. In the latter, you’re astonished but also slightly discomfited. Why does this place exist?

Nagoro Village, Japan, deep in the heart of Shikoku’s Iya Valley, is definitely a Whoa Place. At first glance, this is just another small, rural, Japanese town, replete with vegetable fields and old wooden houses, miles from the nearest train station. My friend Adam and I greet a gentleman working in a cabbage patch. “Konichiwa!” No response. “O Genki Desuka?” (How are you?). Again no response. As I’m about to reach out and touch the man’s shoulder, I realize he’s not a real person at all. He’s a mannequin — a very realistic, life-size doll — as are all the people in the field nearby. And at the bus stop. And in the community center. Nagoro is a village of scarecrows.

Both an art project and a memorial, Nagoro’s scarecrows are the brainchild of artist Sukimi Ayano. For some years, Ayano had noticed the population of her town declining, primarily due to the young people moving away to the big city for work. The artist decided to “replace” the missing residents with mannequin replicas, preserving each person’s overall appearance.

As Adam and I wander through Scarecrow Village, we don’t see a single living human being. (There are only 25 of them left in town, I’m told). What we do see is mannequins everywhere, hanging out on the roadside, fishing in the stream, and crowding the old elementary school. The place definitely has a Body Snatcher’s vibe. When I showed my pictures to my friend Erinn afterwards, she exclaimed, “Well, thanks, there’s no way I can unsee that!”
Where have you been where you’ve thought, “This is some crazy mojo!” Where have you said both Wow and Whoa in the same breath?