Passports to Friendship
Friendship Doll Exhibition
July to October 2002

Erika and Helen visit Japanese American
National Museum from Takasago Kindergarten
in Hyogo Prefecture

From July to October 2002, the Japanese American National Museum in LA held a special exhibition of 12 Friendship Dolls from the doll exchange in 1927 between Japan and the U.S. American Dr. Sidney Gulick organized the "Doll Messengers of Friendship" project as a way for children of the two countries to better understand each other and become friends. In the 1920s, much anti-Japanese sentiment existed in the United States, and the 1924 Immigration Act barred Japanese from entering the country. About 2.6 million Americans responded to Dr. Gulick's appeal to participate in the project, and almost 13,000 dolls were sent to Japanese elementary schools and kindergartens. Japan responded by sending 58 high-class artistic dolls to America.

The 7 American Friendship Dolls at the special exhibit were lent to the Japanese American National Museum by schools in Hyogo and Osaka Prefectures in Japan. These dolls are commonly known in Japan as "Blue-eyed Dolls" named after a popular song written in 1921. Today only 306 of the original dolls remain, since almost all of them were destroyed or lost during World War II.

Miss Kagawa
The 58 Japanese dolls sent to America in 1927 were named after each Japanese prefecture and colony. These dolls are also known as Ambassador Dolls or Torei Ningyo ("Dolls of Gratitude in Japanese). The exhibit at the Japanese American National Museum included Miss Dai-Nippon (also known as Miss Japan or Miss Hideko Yamato), Miss Toyama, Miss Kagawa, Miss Tottori, and Miss Osaka-fu. Miss Tottori's brother, Mr. Tottori, was also at the exhibition. Several of the Japanese dolls' accessories, including lacquer chests and parasols, were also on display.

This display celebrated the 75th anniversary of the U.S.-Japan Doll Exchange. This special exhibition traced the historical and political context of the 1927 exchange, related what happened to the dolls since 1927, and tried to revive the original mission to teach children how to respect and value diverse cultures and experiences. The Museum staff prepared many special activities for children as they walked through the exhibition rooms. The walls displayed many historical photos from the 1927 exchange and photos of activities involving American Friendship Dolls at Japanese schools.

After the exhibition, the Japanese American National Museum sent new Friendship Dolls to the children at the seven Japanese schools that lent the Museum their Friendship Dolls. These new American Friendship Dolls reflected the diversity of the U.S. not only in ethnicity, but also in vocation. For example, the Museum sent an African American veterinarian, an Asian American girl, and a European American soccer player. Along with the dolls, many letters written by children who attended the special exhibit were also sent to the Japanese elementary schools and kindergartens.

Photos of Erika and Helen courtesy of Takasago Kindergarten
Photo of Miss Kagawa courtesy of Kagawa Friendship Doll Association

Related Web Pages

Friendship Doll Exhibit for Children
at Japanese American National Museum

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

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