Friendship Doll Exhibit for Children
Japanese American National Museum
July to October 2002

Two children draw dolls on front of
postcards to be sent to children in Japan

Although people of all ages visited the 2002 Friendship Doll Exhibit at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, the children especially enjoyed the special activities planned for them by the museum staff. About 15 Friendship Dolls, both American and Japanese, were exhibited at the museum in two large special exhibition rooms from July to October 2002. Most of these dolls were from the original doll exchange between the U.S. and Japan that took place in 1927, but there were also a few more recent Friendship Dolls.

Before the children walked into the two large exhibition rooms, they could pick up a passport and get an entry stamp. On the front of the passport, children could complete personal information and draw a self-portrait. The inside of the passport provided space for children to draw a picture of a favorite doll and complete the following questions about the doll:

  • What is his/her name?
  • Where does s/he live now?
  • What is s/he wearing?
  • Why is this your favorite doll?

As children went through the galleries, they were encouraged to consider the meaning of the Friendship Dolls by answering the following questions printed on the inside of the passport:

  • In 1927, how did the Japanese and American children make new friends?
  • What interesting things have your friends taught you about their cultures? For example, about food, holidays, a new word in a different language, . . .
  • What have you taught your friends about your own culture?
Japanese schoolgirl shows Juliette
the picture she drew for her
One of photos on display at Doll Exhibit
at Japanese American National Museum
The Friendship Doll exhibition rooms had three special areas where children could participate in various activities. As children entered the exhibition area, they could go to a corner to find out more about the Friendship Dolls. Children could open plastic boxes filled with all kinds of educational material on the following subjects:
  • Dolls, Dolls, Dolls
  • Sidney L. Gulick
  • The Truth About the Blue-eyed Doll Song
  • Happy Hina Matsuri (Doll Festival)
  • What Can I Do?
  • Got Passport?
  • Doll Detectives
  • November 1927 (month Japanese dolls arrived in America)

Children could also listen to a CD of the "Blue-eyed Doll" song. The activity corner also contained a comment book, 1927 photographs, two hina doll sets, replicas of 1927 U.S. and Japan passports, and a large illustrated book entitled Mary, the Blue-eyed Doll by children's author Eiko Takeda.

After taking a look at the Japanese and American Friendship Dolls, young children could then go to another corner with three large boxes packed with all sorts of interesting Japanese and American items, including several dolls. The following instructions were posted:

Work with a partner and pack a suitcase to "send" to a new friend who lives far away.

1. Look at the map and choose a place where you would like to make a new friend.
2. Pack a suitcase to "send" to your new friend. Include a doll and a few things the doll will need (food, books).
3. How did you decide what to pack?
4. Write a message to your new friends on a sticky note. Place the sticky note on the map where you would like to "send" your suitcase.

Several of the notes contained cute messages from the children, including the following one:

Hi! My name is Erika Bravo Ramirez. Did you know something? I wish I could have a friend from your country. I wish I could talk your language. That is my dream. I wish too I could visit your country. Thank you!

Traditional Japanese tea
ceremony for Rosemary
One of photos on display at
Doll Exhibit at Japanese
American National Museum
As a final activity, children were encouraged to write a letter to a friend in Japan. Postcards were provided on a table, and the front of each postcard had an outline of a small boy or girl. Children could add features and color to the outline. These letters were sent to the elementary and preschool children at the schools in Hyogo Prefecture and Osaka that loaned their 75-year-old American Friendship Dolls for the special exhibition at the Japanese American National Museum. "Like those written in 1927 as part of the original Friendship Doll exchange, the children's letters tell of their lives in America and their desires to learn about other cultures."

After the exhibition, the Japanese American National Museum sent new Friendship Dolls to the children of Japan as a thank-you gesture for lending the museum their dolls. Allyson Nakamoto, Head of the Educational Components Department at the museum, explains about the dolls to be sent:

One of these dolls, Maria, was sent to us by Dr. Sidney Gulick, 3d, and his wife, Dr. Frances Gulick. Maria and the six dolls chosen by the National Museum show the diversity of the United States not only in ethnicity, but also in vocation. For example, we are sending an African American veterinarian, an Asian American girl, and a European American soccer player. It is our hope that these dolls capture the hearts and midst of the Japanese children, just like their 1927 predecessors.

The staff at the Japanese American National Museum did a fine job in getting children interested and involved in the Friendship Doll exhibit. Some younger children may get the details of the Friendship Doll story a little confused, such as the boy who commented about the "Japanese doll from China," but they all were encouraged to make friends with people from around the world.

Web page written by Bill Gordon.
Last two photos courtesy of Japanese American National Museum,
    Hirakata Kindergarten (Juliette),  and Beika Foundation Nursery (Rosemary).
Some information on children's letter writing activities from "Letters to Japan: Continuing the
    Friendship Doll Exchange," Japanese American National Museum Member Magazine, Winter 2002, p. 14.

Related Web Pages

Passports to Friendship, the Friendship Doll exhibition
at the Japanese American National Museum

"A Mission of Friendship," a special program at the
Japanese American National Museum on August 10, 2002

Main Page | 1927 Doll Exchange | Japanese Friendship Dolls | American Blue-eyed Dolls
Mass Media / Books / Films | Letters
Other Friendship Doll Programs | Teachers' Corner
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| Children's Page