A Mission of Friendship

Michiko Takaoka; Sidney Gulick, 3d;
Frances Gulick; Rosie Skiles (left to right)

On August 10, 2002, the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles sponsored a special public program in conjunction with its exhibition, "Passports to Friendship: Celebrating 75 Years of U.S.-Japan Friendship Doll Exchange." This exhibition from July 27 to October 13 features several Japanese and American Friendship Dolls exchanged in 1927.

The afternoon program on August 10 included talks by several experts, who provided insight into past and present people-to-people projects intended to better relations between the U.S. and Japan.

  • Noriko Kohno - Her great-grandfather, Eiichi Shibusawa, was involved in many activities to promote improved relations between Japan and America. In 1927, he helped facilitate the return exchange of 58 gorgeous Japanese dolls to the children of America. Mrs. Kohno is the wife of the Consul General of Japan in Los Angeles.
  • Sidney Gulick, 3d - Since 1986, he and his wife Frances have sent over 150 dolls to elementary schools and kindergartens throughout Japan. His grandfather is Dr. Sidney Gulick, the originator of the project to send dolls to Japan in 1927 in order to foster friendship and peace between Japan and America.
  • Rosie Skiles - She is the Friendship Doll Researcher for the Japanese Asian Doll Enthusiasts (JADE). She has researched, published, and spoken extensively about the missing Japanese Friendship Dolls and has assisted in finding five of these original dolls.
  • Michiko Takaoka - She has visited all of the 44 original Japanese Friendship Dolls located to date, and in 1993 she also helped to institute a program to give Japanese dolls to American schools. She currently serves as the Director of the Japanese Cultural Center at Mukogawa Fort Wright Institute in Spokane, Washington.
Mrs. Takaoka talks on Japanese Friendship Dolls. Enlarged photos of Miss Tokushima, Miss Aomori, and Miss Hiroshima (left to right)
Noriko Kohno began the program by describing her great-grandfather's idea of "international goodwill founded on love of humanity." The exhibition at the Japanese American National Museum gave her an opportunity to review her past, and she was impressed by her great-grandfather's progressive vision related to his support of the 1927 doll exchange.

Sidney Gulick, 3d, then related the history of his grandfather, Dr. Sidney Gulick, and the reasons why he advocated sending dolls to Japan as a gesture of friendship and peace. Relations between the U.S. and Japan were deteriorating in the 1920s, and Japanese immigrants living in America suffered especially harsh treatment. Dr. Gulick believed that children were the key to future peace between the two countries, so he wanted to involve children in a project of friendship that would have lasting results. Mr. Gulick, 3d, has continued the tradition of his grandfather by sending about ten dolls a year to Japanese elementary schools and kindergartens.

Next on the program, Rosie Skiles enthusiastically described her long search for the missing Japanese Friendship Dolls sent to America in 1927. Her correspondence over many years with hundreds of people has resulted in many friendships and has led to the discovery of several dolls. She used overhead slides to show the unique characteristics of the special Japanese dolls sent in 1927, but she emphasized several times that the most important distinguishing feature is that each missing doll is 32 inches tall. Although 44 of the 58 Japanese Friendship Dolls have been discovered, she will not be satisfied until all 58 have been found and are on display sending their message of friendship to the children of America.

Kazuko Tamaoki (center) giving two of her dolls to Sidney Gulick, 3d, and Noriko Kohno at the Japanese American National Museum
A very special guest from Nagoya, Japan, was introduced right before the break. Kazuko Tamaoki is a master Japanese doll maker, and the Japanese American National Museum staff found out only the week before the program that she would be visiting LA for the Friendship Doll program and exhibition. During the presentation of Rosie Skiles, she related a story of Mrs. Tamaoki's amazing abilities. The original kimono for one of the Japanese Friendship Dolls had been cut into pieces for children to use since the great historical value was not realized at that time. When Mrs. Skiles found out about this, she contacted Mrs. Tamaoki, who was able to put the pieces back together and completely restore the kimono to its original beauty. At the program on August 10, Mrs. Tamaoki presented new Japanese dolls to both Sidney Gulick, 3d, and Noriko Kohno to express her gratitude for their involvement in Friendship Doll activities. 

Michiko Takaoka concluded the special program with the interesting stories behind several of the Japanese Friendship Dolls.

  • Miss Kantoshu - This doll was not discovered until November 1998, when she called out in a antique show to two avid Japanese doll collectors, Marv and Flo Herring, who were in attendance at the August 10th program.
  • Miss Chosen - This doll was discovered in 1998 through the joint efforts of several individuals in Connecticut. Mrs. Takaoka explained that this discovery was very special because none of the individuals involved are doll collectors.
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American National Museum
  • Miss Tokushima - This is the first Japanese Friendship Doll that Mrs. Takaoka met, and ever since 1993 Miss Tokushima has been the guest of honor at the annual Doll Festival (Hina Matsuri) held at the Mukogawa Fort Wright Institute in Spokane, Washington.
  • Miss Hiroshima - This doll was kept safely during World War II in the home of a Japanese-American woman living in Baltimore.
  • Miss Aomori - A woman bought this special doll long ago for $10, even though it was somewhat damaged and the kimono sleeve was off. She took good care of the doll for 36 years before she finally found out it is one of the 58 Japanese Friendship Dolls sent to the U.S. in 1927.

Mrs. Takaoka showed enlarged photos of four of the Japanese Friendship Dolls. She explained that several of the dolls were damaged over time, with cracks, missing feet, broken legs, and faded kimonos. However, 30 of the 44 dolls have been returned to Japan for repair and restoration.

The afternoon program on "A Mission of Friendship" provided the audience with a good understanding of the history and purpose of the Friendship Dolls. The speakers' enthusiasm and dedication showed everyone that the Friendship Dolls continue to play a valuable role in teaching children the importance of international friendship and peace and in fostering better relations between Japan and America.  

Related Web Pages

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

Friendship Doll Exhibit for Children
at Japanese American National Museum

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