Nagoro, a town in the mountains of Japan, once bustled with people. Now, thanks to deaths, the falling birthrate, a dearth of young people moving in, and one industrious artist, there are 35 living humans and three times as many limp and dead-eyed scarecrows.
Sixty-five-year-old Tsukimi Ayano, according to an amazing Associated Press report on Nagoro, is one of the dying village's youngest residents, and began making scarecrows to "help fill the days and replace neighbors who died or moved away."
The town's elementary school, which shuttered in 2012, contains "spotless classrooms populated with scarecrow students and teachers," the AP writes.
Here, Ayano works on a new scarecrow. "They bring back memories," she told the AP. "That old lady used to come and chat and drink tea. That old man used to love to drink sake and tell stories. It reminds me of the old times, when they were still alive and well."
Japan's population began falling in 2004 and is now ageing faster than any other on the planet. More than 22% of Japanese are already 65 or older. A report compiled with the government's co-operation two years ago warned that by 2060 the number of Japanese will have fallen from 127m to about 87m, of whom almost 40% will be 65 or older.
The government is pointedly not denying newspaper reports that ran earlier this month, claiming that it is considering a solution it has so far shunned: mass immigration. The reports say the figure being mooted is 200,000 foreigners a year. An advisory body to Shinzo Abe, the prime minister, said opening the immigration drawbridge to that number would help stabilise Japan's population—at around 100m (from its current 126.7m).
Thanks to Ayano's work, Nagaro has found life as a low-key tourist attraction. "If I hadn't made these scarecrows," she told the AP, "people would just drive right by."