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The last straw: West Japan scarecrow festival makes light of 2020's big events

Scarecrows based on then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right, and Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike are seen masked and ready to hold press conferences in Mitsue, Nara Prefecture, on Sept. 9, 2020. (Mainichi/Akiko Hirose)
A scarecrow themed on one of the main characters in the hit manga "Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba," which ended its serialization in 2020, is seen in Mitsue, Nara Prefecture, on Sept. 9, 2020. (Mainichi/Akiko Hirose)
A lineup of some of the 2020-themed scarecrows on show at the annual scarecrow festival is seen in Mitsue, Nara Prefecture, on Sept. 9, 2020. (Mainichi/Akiko Hirose)

NARA -- Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's masked appearance and epidemic-warding Japanese folklore character Amabie are just some of the individuals and events furnishing this year's headlines that have gotten the straw man treatment at an annual scarecrow festival in western Japan.

    In reference to the coronavirus pandemic this year, almost all of the scarecrows on display in the Tsuchiyahara neighborhood of the village of Mitsue in Nara Prefecture are masked, and the varied entries, visible until 3 p.m. on Sept. 22, have been attracting a lot of attention.

    The Tsuchiyahara community center started the festival around 13 years ago as part of attempts to revitalize the local area. Until 2018 the event was held as a ranked contest, but from 2019 it was changed solely to an exhibition. This year's 27 scarecrows have been made by residents ranging from their 20s to 80s.

    The festival is known for putting out scarecrows that reflect the events of the year. The 2020 version has many referring to the coronavirus crisis, with straw characters of the now-familiar sight of press conference-ready ex-Prime Minister Abe and Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike appearing together. Among the other scarecrows based on this year's talking points are an eccentric one of a computer screen for remote work, a character from hit manga "Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba," and a homemaker carrying an eco-friendly bag.

    One self-employed woman, 64, based her scarecrow on Tokushoryu from Nara Prefecture, who at the start of 2020 won the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament -- his first tourney victory. The scarecrow is very detailed, and includes a support brace wrapped around one leg. Its creator laughed and said, "Once he won the tournament I decided I'd do him as a scarecrow. I've included a message that I want him to push corona out of the ring."

    A 67-year-old homemaker who contributed with an effigy of Baikinman, the bacteria-themed villain in popular manga and anime "Anpanman," told the Mainichi Shimbun, "I came up with the idea after a conversation with a grandchild who told me they wanted coronavirus to be defeated."

    A scarecrow themed on Amabie, an epidemic-warding yokai spirit that has seen a huge rise in popularity amid the events of 2020, is seen in the village of Mitsue, Nara Prefecture, on Sept. 9, 2020. (Mainichi/Akiko Hirose)

    A senior official at the Tsuchiyahara community center said, "We've got lots of exhibits made with the feeling that people want to blow away the coronavirus. We'd be happy if people felt better for seeing the scarecrows."

    One 76-year-old woman who came with her husband from the prefectural village of Yamazoe to see the scarecrows said, "Last year was my first time visiting, and I looked forward to it this year, too. They're all so good, aren't they?"

    (Japanese original by Akiko Hirose, Sakurai Local Bureau)

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