Article from The Wall Street Journal, December 23, 1996
by Gail King


Single, 69, and a Real Doll

Miss Toyama, a real doll, charmingly fulfills her role as Japanese ambassador to Kentucky. She stands serenely in the Fine Arts Museum here, her pearly complexion, sleek black hair and magnificent scarlet kimono not giving a clue to the perils of doll diplomacy.

She accepted her post at Christmas 69 years ago, when she arrived in the U.S. as a Goodwill Doll. Sidney Gulick, in collaboration with the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America, initiated a grassroots effort to defuse animosities between Japan and the U.S. by sending 12,739 blue-eyed dolls to Japan. The Japanese then reciprocated with 58 elaborately dressed ceremonial dolls, complete with passport, parasol, fan, tea ceremony utensils and lacquered furniture.

After a reported 479 tea parties and receptions from San Francisco (where they disembarked from the Tenyo Maru) to New York (where they graced Lord and Taylor's windows), the dolls were distributed to the states and 10 large cities. Miss Kochi, for example, went to Pittsburgh's Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Miss Kyoto to The Children's Museum, Boston, and Miss Fujiko Yamanashi (one of the few dolls given a first name) to the Wyoming State Museum.

Miss Toyama moved into the brand new J.B. Speed Art Museum in Louisville. The Speed immediately made inquiries to the Japanese ambassador about how to address Japanese dignitaries and sent off a thank you note, recognizing the gift as "a happy forecast of sympathy between the future generations of our respective countries." Then forces beyond doll or human diplomacy intervened. The few institutions that managed to keep the dolls on display through the Depression shoved them back in their trunks after Pearl Harbor.

Some of the dolls apparently went into the trash heap (half are unaccounted for); in Japan the blue-eyed dolls were forcibly removed from schoolrooms and ritually executed by the military.

Kentuckians in 1928 knew about Japan only that it was far away and populated by people with black foreign-looking eyes. Miss Toyama proved popular in Louisville and managed to spread a little cultural enlightenment; in 1934 her popularity served as the inspiration for a Kentucky-Indiana doll festival. But hard times limited exhibit space and she was soon tucked away in her trunk.

The 1937 flood poured the Ohio River into the Speed's storage areas, and in the confusion of clean-up Miss Toyama was listed as presumed drowned. In the 1980s there was a flurry of interest in the Japanese dolls: the Speed answered all inquiries with the sad history of Miss Toyama's demise in the flood. Then, in 1992, a Speed employee who had worked with Miss Shimane at the Indianapolis Children's Museum happened upon a trunk in the Speed basement. Battered and watermarked, the trunk nevertheless looked familiar and, sure enough, inside lay poor Miss Toyama: feet dangling unconnected to her legs, fingers crumbly, hair tangled with 50-year river muck. Were her sawdust and epoxy limbs salvageable? Who could restore her oystershell complexion? And if it were possible, who would pay for it?

Miss Toyama's plight coincided with the search of Universal Fasteners Inc. (UFI), a Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, subsidiary of the YKK Corp. whose primary Japanese manufacturing facilities are in Toyama Prefecture, for a project to commemorate its 100th birthday. They investigated and discovered that Tokube Yamada, the president of Yoshitoku, a renowned Tokyo doll manufacturer, was the son of the man who had made the Goodwill dolls. Mr. Yamada arranged for a Yoshitoku conservator to restore Miss Toyama. The Speed, UFI and the Japan-America Society of Toyama footed the bill so that a perfectly restored Miss Toyama, after ceremonies with schoolchildren in Toyama Prefecture, could arrive back in Kentucky for UFI's birthday celebration.

Now the Speed, the same age as Miss Toyama, is closed for a major $12 million renovation (which will include a new niche for Miss Toyama) and the doll is on tour.

Miss Toyama's Owensboro sponsor is the local Chamber of Commerce. While there are no Japanese-connected industries in Owensboro yet, Princeton, Indiana, a few miles north, has recently snared a Toyota plant and Owensboro would like some of the action. The Chamber and the other sponsors of Miss Toyama's statewide tour are clearly interested more in Miss Toyama's economic impact than in the folds of her obi. Japanese interests own 102 plants in Kentucky with a known investment of $6.5 billion. Last year the state exported $870 million in goods and services to Japan. Miss Toyama's Kentucky itinerary follows a path blazed by yen-dollars: Frankfort (nearby distillers are hot on the trail of Japanese bourbon drinkers), Harrodsburg (Hitachi Automotive Products), Georgetown (Toyota), Lexington (Japanese spent more than $10 million at Keenland's November breeding stock sale).

Miss Toyama is, in short, a used woman. She continues, nevertheless, to be part of Mr. Gulick's mission: "We who desire peace must write it in the hearts of children." There are about 2,500 Japanese living in Kentucky; the state has a busy Japan/America Society; there are teacher exchange programs throughout the state; Japanese is taught in the Owensboro high school. Nevertheless, when a child who looked uncannily like Miss Toyama came to the museum with her class last week, she was decidedly noticeable. "Japanese?" one of the guides asked. Accustomed to such questions, the little girl waited politely for her teacher to answer, "Korean."

Then the child stood, purporting not to be unduly interested, while the docent explained Miss Toyama. As the children filed out to their bus, the little girl turned and looked carefully back at the doll. She started out the door and darted one quick last glance. She would surely agree with Mr. Gulick who wrote, in 1927: "We need to learn that we appear as strange to other people as they do to us; our language sounds as queer in their ears as their languages do in ours. . . . We need to know each other and to learn to live helpfully and happily, for we are in the same world and are making a great world-neighborhood."

Miss Toyama Page

Article used with permission of author
Photo used with permission of the Speed Art Museum

Miss Toyama - Collection of the Speed Art Museum, Louisville, Kentucky
Japanese, 20th century
Gofun (powdered shell), glass eyes, human hair, silk and cotton costume
Height - 32 inches
Gift of the children of Japan

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