Japan’s population is shrinking and aging, and nowhere is the trend felt more intensively than in its rural regions, where a low birthrate is exacerbated by dwindling employment opportunities and an inconvenient lifestyle.

“There are no chances for young people here,” said Ms. Ayano, who remembers when the village had a medical clinic, a pachinko gambling parlor and a diner. Now, Nagoro does not have even one shop. “They can’t make a living.”

Some 350 dolls made by Ms. Ayano and her friends outnumber the human residents by more than 10 to 1. All around Nagoro, she has staged the dolls — made of wood and wire frames, stuffed with newspapers and dressed in old clothes donated from across Japan — in various scenes evoking the real people who once populated the village.