By Ellen Thompson, Japanese Friendship Doll Liaison, Fulbright Scholar
from St. Luke School, Barrington, Rhode Island

Article from Mukogawa Fort Wright Institute Cultural Center News, March and April 2001

The Never-ending Story

I would like to tell you a wonderful story -- a story that began in 1995. I was attending an institute on Japan sponsored by the Five College Center for East Asian studies at Smith College, Northampton, MA. After I returned home, I applied on behalf of our school. As soon as our Japanese dolls arrived, neither the school nor I have been the same.

We received 2 lovely traditional dolls, but the 3rd doll was the one that forever touched our hearts. A young woman studying at Mukogawa Fort Wright Institute had lovingly made, by hand, the most charming doll we had ever seen! She was dressed in an American colonial outfit, but her eyes were Japanese! Accompanying the dolls were toys, games, postcards, and beautifully written letters in perfect handwriting (and perfect English) by several Japanese students. After examining these treasures we could not wait to get to know Japan better.

Our school set to work to send something equally wonderful to Japan. One of our parents made a 30" doll (which we named Emily Ann) dressed in an exact replica of our school uniform. Several other parents brought back dolls from trips their families had made around the United States. We took photographs of all the children in our K-8 school, and compiled an array of books, maps and postcards of Rhode Island. Before we sent our package of goodwill to Japan, we had a school-wide party on Hina Matsuri 1999, celebrating both the birthdays of the 3 dolls we had received from Japan and the send-off of Emily Ann, etc., to Japan. Our dolls and objects were sent to Mukogawa Junior/Senior High School in Nishinomiya.

More wonderful instances of international understanding happened that year. 1999 was the first time we participated in the Japanese Friendship Doll Program's international art contest, and the theme was the Year of the Rabbit. We learned so much about New Year's celebrations in Japan and had a great time creating our entries for the contest. Some months later we received a beautiful white silk rabbit for our participation.

Before the school year was over we were honored with a visit from Michiko Takaoka. We enjoyed an unforgettable day with Mrs. Takaoka and her husband, speaking to all our students at an assembly and visiting each class and sharing stories, songs, origami making, and history with various age groups. On that day we received another wonderful cultural item from the country we were coming to know -- a red schoolgirl's backpack. We all wanted to know how Japanese children fit everything they need for school in such a small space!

In October 1999 I traveled to Japan as part of the Fulbright Memorial Fund program for teachers. My assignment for most of my stay in Japan was Hiroshima, but I did have a free weekend. Through arrangements made by the Japanese Friendship Doll Program, I was able to visit our American doll, Emily Ann, and the school staff in Nishinomiya warmly received me. Before leaving, they presented me with 2 more Japanese dolls! I was able to stay with a wonderful family for the weekend who kindly gave me a tour of Kyoto. I remain friends with this family and often e-mail them with a question one of my students might have about Japan.

Winter 2000 brought another fun art contest for our students -- this time the "Year of the Dragon." In the spring we invited the entire school community to a Japan Night for Families, and I was able to share all that I had learned from my 3-week Fulbright Memorial Fund trip to Japan. And now I was able to answer the question of how Japanese kids fit everything into such small backpacks.

Last summer I attended an institute on China, and I made sure all 50 participants heard about the Japanese Friendship Doll Program. I have also been able to recommend several other schools for the program, and I always smile when I learn that they will be receiving dolls.

Recently St. Luke's sent in their 2001 Year of the Snake art contest entries, and, as has been the custom for the last 3 years, each Hina Matsuri (March 3) our school designs a special bookmark celebrating the birthdays of the 5 dolls we now have, and also honoring the zodiac animal of the year. We take the dolls around to visit each classroom and distribute bookmarks to all students.

But this story of international friendship and understanding is not over. In April 2001 I will be visiting China for 2 weeks with 25 other teachers. Somehow I don't think I would have had this opportunity nor would St. Luke's School be on the brink of learning about China if we had not gotten involved with the Japanese Friendship Doll Program six years ago.

We can’t wait to see what the next six years will bring!

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