Still Life: Scarecrow sociality, economic abandonment, and public curiosity in rural Japan

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In Nagoro, in the middle of Shikoku, close to two hundred scarecrows stand in the farm fields where nothing but weeds now grow; they wait at the bus stop past which busses no longer run; and they sit in an elementary school devoid of human children. Day by day increasing numbers of visitors from urban centers of affluent countries are making the trek to this small town and its inanimate inhabitants. Reflexively following that curiosity, for the past five years I have visited this town, made scarecrows, spent time with long-term inhabitants of the valley, and talked to the tourists and reporters who come to see a fading rural life set against a seemingly natural backdrop of stunning beauty. In this paper, I argue that the economic conditions that enable the hyper-mobility of urban public curiosity are precisely those that push small villages such as this one to the verge of disappearance. A gendered, spatial, and temporal organization of labor and leisure, curiosity and possibility — all global in scope — condense here into the scarecrow.

This event is part of the Europe Japan Research Centre seminar series. For more information on the Centre activities go to