Shuji Hagisho (70), Senmaya Town

Blue-eyed Doll

The Blue-eyed Doll named "Betty" has been at Senmaya Elementary School for more than 70 years, but the number of people who know the doll's cultural significance and background is growing smaller.

After the Meiji Era, which ended in 1912, emigration to America continued to increase due to an economic recession in Japan. Wages for colored races were low, but they were able to work. While employment of Americans decreased and sentiments toward Japan worsened, immigrants suffered persecution by the anti-Japanese movement. Only against Japan did America enact measures to prohibit immigration.

The Committee on World Friendship Among Children, led by Dr. Sidney Gulick, was concerned about the existing anti-Japanese sentiment. The Committee placed emphasis on "world peace through friendship between Japan and America, two countries facing each other across the Pacific Ocean." The drive to accomplish an exchange of friendship between children and to develop a friendship movement in all America through dolls created quite a groundswell and sensation, and a large number of doll messengers were sent across the ocean.

At the time the dolls were given, the customs of Japan were researched in detail. They considered the characteristics and traditions of Japan, where the people placed great importance on May's samurai dolls and on Hina Matsuri (Doll Festival on March 3). So the Committee decided upon goodwill and friendship through dolls.

Grand farewell ceremonies were held. They were gifts not only from the standpoint of being articles, that is dolls, but one also really can say they were people full of the kindness and consideration of Americans. Betty is one of these dolls.

The 1927 school diary of Senmaya Elementary School has this entry: "Thursday, April 7, welcome ceremony held for American doll." After the doll was given, it moved from one place to another within the school. Much time passed, and the school staff knew only as much as "it's a doll that came from America."

Varied Fate, 12 Dolls in Prefecture

Shuji Hagisho made the acquaintance of Eiko Takeda, a children's author who has done much research on the Blue-eyed Dolls. When she gave him some advice, he suddenly was awakened to Betty's significance.

At that time, a visit to Senmaya Elementary School by representatives from Massachusetts and a visit to Betty's original home by a Senmaya Town government worker were realized. There were various items made into educational material about the Blue-eyed Dolls.

Betty when she returned to Senmaya Elementary School from the "Blue-eyed Doll Homecoming Exhibition" in America (January 1990)
In Japan, a "Song to Welcome the Dolls" was composed for the Blue-eyed Dolls that came in great numbers. Welcome ceremonies were held in each prefecture, local area, and school to warmly welcome the dolls. Stylish Japanese Ichimatsu dolls were given to America as thank-you gifts. A "Good-bye Song to the Dolls" was also composed. "Suzuko Iwate" was sent from Iwate Prefecture.

Unfortunately, World War II began, and the doll messengers of friendship were destroyed by burning them and by stabbing them with spears. The dolls suffered devastation during the war, and only 216 remain in Japan and only 12 remain in Iwate Prefecture. We can say that Betty, one of these remaining dolls, is a "silent witness" who has continued to observe an extraordinary existence and history.

In contrast to Japan, the Japanese Ichimatsu dolls given to each state in America were regarded as splendid works of art. They were preserved so not even one would be lost.

Children are filled fundamentally with a spirit of friendship. Therefore, the plan for international peace by the American leaders who valued children deserves our attention. The Blue-eyed Dolls possess an impressive reality and historical background, but Japan's international understanding and peace activities through these dolls can still be increased.

Shuji Hagisho

Born in Hakodate, Hokkaido, in 1930. Graduated from Iwate Teachers College. Held various positions at Senmaya Elementary School, Fujisawa Elementary School, and other schools, and also worked in newspaper education. Served as principal at Ushiishi Elementary School and Tokuda Elementary School, and was principal at Senmaya Elementary School from 1988 to 1990, when he retired. He has been at Senmaya Elementary School since he enrolled as a student up to the time he was a teacher and principal.

Since his childhood he has had a connection with Betty. Especially during the time he served as Senmaya's principal, he contributed to the promotion of cultural exchange by such activities as sending letters of friendship to America. In 1989, a delegation from Massachusetts visited the school, and the group renewed the old friendship. "Thank you for taking good care of Betty, a child from our home country." He will never forget the words of appreciation from the delegation.

"Destroy the dolls." Betty, who marvelously made it through the war, is a surviving witness of various aspects of a hidden past and of friendship and kindness. "More than 70 years since she came to Japan. If Betty were asked about this time, she would give all kinds of interesting replies." Chief priest at Matsusawa Shrine. Resident of Maeda, Senmaya Aza, Senmaya Town.


Betty - Blue-eyed Doll

This is an English translation of a Japanese web page (link no longer available).
Article from Iwate Nichinichi Shimbun.

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