by Bill Gordon

Mukogawa Fort Wright Institute
Hina Matsuri (Doll Festival)
March 2, 2006

Michiko Takaoka (2nd from right) and Patrice Pendell (far right) from Mukogawa's Japanese Cultural Center receive two American Friendship Dolls from Mary Ann Kojis (2nd from left) and Phoebe Turner (far left) from Longfellow Elementary School in Boise, Idaho. These two dolls will be sent to a Japanese school.

Mukogawa Encourages
International Friendship

My wife Noriko and I always have been impressed by Mukogawa Fort Wright Institute's strong encouragement of friendship between people in Japan and America. We have wanted to participate in Mukogawa's Hina Matsuri for many years, but this year was the first time we were able to make the long trip from our home in Connecticut to Spokane.

When we arrived on campus, we were impressed by the tall pine trees and stylish red-brick buildings built in the early 1900s when Fort Wright served as a U.S. Army post. Next we entered the large hall where many charming Japanese and American dolls were lined up in front on tiered stands.

Wife Noriko speaking at
Hina Matsuri ceremony
The Hina Matsuri program was packed with songs, speeches, and student performances. The Doll Festival participants had students from several American schools, including 120 seventh graders who traveled all the way from Idaho and 20 cute second and third graders from Spokane who performed a couple of songs on recorders. After the ceremony, the American children enjoyed talking with Mukogawa's Japanese students during lunch.

I spoke on the importance of international friendship. I explained how I created a web site about Friendship Dolls and visited many Japanese schools with American Friendship Dolls. Next I described ways that students can be friends with people from other countries, such as homestays, pen pal programs, learning a foreign language, and meeting people in the U.S. from other countries.

Miss Tokushima, Japanese Friendship Doll,
with American and Japanese dolls 
Activities sponsored by Mukogawa promote international understanding both in the Spokane area and beyond. I spoke with several people who mentioned the positive relations between Mukogawa students and Spokane residents. But Mukogawa's reach extends beyond Spokane, as this year the school will coordinate sending Japanese dolls to 47 schools across America in order to promote cultural understanding and friendship.

The students who spend a semester at Mukogawa Fort Wright Institute have an excellent opportunity to improve their English and learn firsthand about American culture. They participate in short homestays with local families, and they have many other scheduled events to get to know the people and places of America. Noriko and I enjoyed talking with Mukogawa students who showed their excitement to be studying in America. 

With Michiko Takaoka at
Japanese Cultural Center
The Japanese Cultural Center (JCC), located on Mukogawa's campus, provides visiting American students with activities such as origami and kamishibai (large picture stories). Michiko Takaoka and Patrice Pendell, JCC's two staff members, enthusiastically described to me JCC's wide-ranging programs to promote Japanese culture both locally and nationally. The Center's building has a large student activity room, a library, and a museum with items such as traditional Japanese toys, kimonos, and dolls.

The Japanese Friendship Doll named Miss Tokushima plays a central role in Mukogawa's Hina Matsuri. The beautiful 33-inch-tall Japanese doll stood in the center of the stage with Japanese dolls on one side and American dolls on the other. Later Noriko and I visited Miss Tokushima's home at the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture, which has a new exhibit on the history of Japanese-Americans in the Spokane area.

Noriko and I appreciate very much Mukogawa Fort Wright Institute's support of the Friendship Doll Program and sponsorship of other activities to strengthen ties between Japan and America. We wish Mukogawa continued success!

Some of 47 Japanese dolls to be sent to American schools

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Special thanks to Nick Follger for the first two photos on this web page.

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