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Japanese Friendship Dolls

Japanese Friendship Doll


After receiving almost 13,000 dolls as gifts from American children in early 1927, Japan wanted to do something special to express their thanks. Eiichi Shibusawa, a Japanese businessman and educator, organized the collection of money from children throughout Japan to pay for the making of 58 special dolls to be sent to America.

Each Japanese doll was equipped with a variety of accessories, including lacquer chests, a silk parasols, two pedestal lanterns, passports, steamship tickets, and goodwill letters.

When the 58 Japanese Friendship Dolls arrived in the US, they were greeted warmly and went on a tour of the country for several months before being distributed to museums in the various states.

Sadly, just 14 short years after America received the Japanese Friendship Dolls, Japan and the US were fighting each other in World War II. During the war, many of the Friendship Dolls were stored away, sold, or lost. Miss Kagawa, at the North Carolina State Museum of Natural History, was turned to face the wall. A sign next to the doll read:


The Japanese made an insane attack upon the American Territory of Hawaii on December 7, 1941.
With a grim determination we now are committed to stop for all time Japanese aggression. This has no bloodthirsty implications to destroy peoples as such. We still believe in peace and goodwill to live and let live.

Men, women and children of Japan have this goodwill but they have now been dominated by ruthless leaders. Proof of such latent goodwill are the Friendship Doll Exhibits exchanged between children of the United States and Japan during 1926 and 1927 and shown as here in museums in both countries.

Until the mid 1980s, almost nothing was known about what had happened to the Japanese Friendship Dolls.  A 1984 magazine article mentions Miss Japan stored away the Smithsonian Institution, but also states, "As far as is known, there is no list available of the other dolls that were sent or where they found homes." With the efforts of many dedicated individuals, most of the beautiful Japanese Friendship Dolls have been located, but 14 of the dolls still remain missing. 

Photo courtesy of University of Nebraska Museum, Anthropology Division

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