Kubo, Tokushima โ†’ โ›ฐ Mount Tsurugi โ†’ Kawai, Tokushima

Map of Tokushima Prefecture with authorโ€™s route between Kubo and Kawai highlighted. ๐Ÿ—บ Open map in GaiaGPS โ†’

The door of a barbershop with a stencil of a small land crab, its pincers modified into a blow-dryer and a pair of scissors. ๐Ÿ“ Sugeoi, Tokushima

A cascade of weirs on a mountain river.

Three human-sized dolls dressed up as village women sit on the ground around a wooden telephone pole.

Three dolls lie on the ground in front of a house, while a fourth loiters by the road.

A doll sits at a low worktable with mugs and various tools laid out on it.

The face of a doll with a towel wrapped around his head in the Japanese manner.

A Japanese woman, Ayano Tsukimi, wearing a wide-brimmed hat and simple country clothes, sits on a chair in front of her house, with several of her dools visible behind her. ๐Ÿ“ Nagoro, Tokushima

I had known of Ayano Tsukimi before I walked up to her porch on a cold mountain morning. Sheโ€™s the star of Fritz Schumannโ€™s The Valley of Dolls, a documentary about her epic art project of populating Nagoro, her village in the upper Iya Valley, with dolls of the departed and the dead.

We warmed ourselves by a charcoal fire with two of her human neighbors, and she brought me an exquisite breakfast of mountain vegetables she had picked. โ€œThatโ€™s my 86-year-old father, weeding the gardenโ€ she said, pointing to one of the few living humans in the landscape.

Nagoro was a dayโ€™s walk from the nearest train station, and it was like a hundred villages I had walked through, but she had turned what is otherwise only hinted at by collapsing houses, abandoned cars, and overgrown orchards, into a brutal and explicit statement: that this is a dying land, thereโ€™s nothing anyone can do about it, and it will die with her.

She showed me winter pictures of Nagoro: snow up to her knees, her old house heated by a wood-burning furnace. The turquoise waters and the emerald mountains can never compete with convenience stores and central heating.

I walked out of Nagoro in the company of ghosts, and I cried until I couldnโ€™t cry anymore, then I walked until I couldnโ€™t walk anymore, into the clouds crashing on the summit of Mount Tsurugi.

Two beverage cans and a plastic bottle are placed to cool in a bucket of spring water.

A human-sized doll with a cigarette in its right hand looks straight at the camera.

Two dolls wearing hard hats guard a closed bridge leading to an abandoned schoolhouse.

Two dolls sit on stools in a field, drinking beers.

An old canvas briefcase with a picture of the Space Shuttle is placed next to the right hand of a doll. ๐Ÿ“ Nagoro, Tokushima

Clover and small white-pink flowers grow on the moss-covered trunk of a tree.

A man stands on a rock with a path along a mountain ridge visible behind him. This is Mount Tsurugi, the second highest point of Shikoku.

A man walks up a path in dense bamboo grass, with rolling forested hills visible behind him.

A lunch menu of vegetables, grilled fish, fruit, tea, and sake arranged on a table. ๐Ÿ“ Mount Tsurugi, Tokushima

A grilled trout, a hot stove, mountain vegetables, a cup of warm sake, fresh oranges: just what the doctor ordered after walking down from the summit of Mount Tsurugi in the cold rain.

A cloud-filled, forested valley runs towards the horizon under very cloudy skies. ๐Ÿ“ Mount Tsurugi, Tokushima

A mountain road completely covered by rocks from a landslide, making it impassable to vehicular traffic. A very small yellow excavator is parked on the rocks. ๐Ÿ“ Nakoyama Plateau, Tokushima

These Walking Dreams is a visual field diary of a 4,300-kilometer walk from one end of Japan to the other, in the spring and summer of 2017.