Speech given at the JADE Convention
in Anaheim, California on July 26, 1997.
by Michiko Takaoka
Director, The Japanese Cultural Center
400 West Randolph Road
Spokane, Washington 99224


As Americans, you must be very proud of this noble plan of doll exchanges was initiated by an American. Dr. Sidney L. Gulick was born in 1860 in Springfield, Massachusetts and died in 1945 in Boise, Idaho. His legacy is a great vision of world friendships, of a world neighborhood and is still being expanded today. Today we share his vision and I hope you are also inspired.

Dr. Gulick was a missionary in Japan. He had a full understanding of the Japanese way of life, celebrations, and culture. He traveled to Japan at the turn of the century and stayed for more than 20 years.

At the same time in the US, discrimination against the Japanese immigrants had become more and more serious and in the 1920s there was a great deal of tension between the two Countries. When Dr. Gulick returned from Japan at this time, he was gravely apprehensive at this growing trend. He actively committed himself to improving the relationship between the two countries. Dr. Gulick was a member of the Committee on World Friendship Among Children, and he believed the future of international friendship would be fostered by offering children the opportunity to know and become friends with each other, free from prejudice and discrimination.

Because of his knowledge of Japanese culture and traditions, he hit on the idea of using dolls as "a mission of friendship" incorporating American dolls to the Japanese Doll Festival, Hina Matsuri. He thought American dolls would make very good messengers sending a message from American Children to Japanese Children. He knew the Japanese loved dolls and indeed in all countries, and in all cultures, children have a love of dolls.

This idea was excellent on many levels. Of course an exchange of people, face to face, is best, but it has limitations. Dolls are close representatives to real people, and they give a non-prejudicial feeling of love. Gulick's knowledge and sensitivity to Japanese culture was another truly insightful point. For the Japanese, dolls are more than play things, they are guardians, a substitute for people that can vicariously absorb sickness, pain and misfortune. Additionally, the celebration Gulick chose to send American Dolls to, Hina Matsuri, Doll Festival always celebrated on March 3rd has a great tradition. A children's song "Blue Eyed Dolls" was specially written and was a great hit at the time. In all these considerations, Gulick showed his great respect for the Japanese people and for the importance of world understanding.

Dr. Gulick asked an old friend, Eiichi Shibusawa, an influential Japanese businessman, for his help. Shibusawa was also worried at the worsening relationship between the US and Japan. With the slogan "World Peace through Children," the committee sent a call for help on sending American dolls to Japan. Churches, Sunday schools, public schools, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, women's societies, voluntary organizations and so many other groups throughout the US responded to the Committee's appeal and participated in the program, "The Doll Plan" -almost 2.7 million people! Children raised funds, sending their own pocket money to buy mama dolls less than 1 1/2 foot tall. Mothers and daughters made clothes; there were bazaars and many different kinds of fund-raising events.

The unique part of the plan was that each doll had a passport with a visa issued by the US government, a train ticket, and a steamboat ticket. The fare was 99 cents (group discount) and the passport cost 1 cent for a total of $1.00! The dolls were also accompanied by letters from American children.

After many farewell parties, 12,739 dolls sailed to Japan arriving at Yokohama and Kobe in time to participate in the Doll Festival on March 3, 1927. The dolls were delivered to elementary schools and kindergartens all over Japan and received a big welcome. The blue eyes, blonde hair, western dress, passports, English letters -- everything was so new and so impressive to the Japanese children at the time. It was a great culture shock to see these dolls who actually open and shut their eyes and said "mama!"

Miss Akita
Japanese Friendship Doll

As a return gesture, Japanese children raised money, and commissioned 58 oversized dolls to be sent to American children. It is a credit to the scope of the Doll Plan to know 2.6 million Japanese participated in this effort.

The Japanese dolls are called Torei Dolls, the dolls of gratitude. They were all 32 inches tall, child size. Their arms and legs bent and they can even sit in a Japanese style. Beside elaborate work, they had a voice box saying "kyu-kyu." These dolls were made by the very best doll makers in Japan at the time. The dolls of this size are usually display dolls, but Torei dolls were meant to be played with. Today dolls of such size and magnificence are not made.

The dolls came with accouterments including: Hina-size passports, visas and gorgeous accessories and many letters from Japanese children. They had parasols, 2 pairs of sandals, doll size furniture, tea ceremony sets and some even came with small play dolls with miniature cosmetics, futon sets, and baby dolls with their wigs. Some of the dolls even had calling cards and coins in a small purse. The Torei Dolls were given first class cabins on the Tenyo-maru ship, which left Yokohama for San Francisco in November 1927, planning to be in New York in time for Christmas 1927.

Japanese-Americans were especially proud and happy to see these gorgeous Japanese Dolls. Each Doll represented the 47 Prefectures (or States), 4 Japanese territories of the time (including Taiwan and Korea), the 6 largest Japanese Cities, and 1 doll who represents all of Japan. The Torei Dolls spent I year traveling the US and then were placed in their new homes. Each state received a Doll, and Ohio, California, Pennsylvania, and some other states received more than one. The dolls were placed in Children's Museums as a priority.

The Torei dolls were loved dearly by American Children. Today we can see the dirt on the hands and cheeks of the Torei dolls made from American children's greetings. But the impact of the Torei dolls on American children was much less than that of the American dolls on Japanese children. This was because the number was much smaller and the Japanese dolls were mostly kept in museums and not in schools and kindergartens, as were the American dolls in Japan.

During the war, the dolls in both countries suffered misery.  Of course, we all know this gesture, the 1927 "Doll Plan," was not enough to stem the tide of war in the long history between the US and Japan. There are many stories about the dolls during the war years. War makes people crazy. Many dolls were lost, as no one wanted to see the face of the enemy during war time. But there are many courageous stories of how the dolls were protected. Today, officially 286 or about 2% of the American dolls have been found and 40 of the Japanese dolls.

After the war, for a couple of years, the dolls were forgotten. There was no room in people's minds to think of the friendship dolls. Mary Toku Sugiyama, a second generation Japanese American lady from Maryland, played a pioneer role beginning in 1973 to send the Miss Hiroshima doll in Baltimore back to Japan to be restored and be used as a friendship ambassador. As a board member of the Baltimore City Bicentennial Festival of 1976, she realized the International Doll and Flower Arrangement Fair was the perfect time to showcase Miss Hiroshima. Mrs. Sugiyama took the doll back to Japan herself and had the doll preserved. As a general manager of the Sogetsu School of America, a flower arrangement group, she was able to collect 50 international dolls from the embassies in Washington, D.C. All were displayed with Miss Hiroshima, who was the centerpiece of the show, symbolizing friendship and peace. This was the beginning of many Torei doll homecomings in Japan. The Japanese were so happy and appreciative to see the dolls who had survived in the US.

My hometown of Kobe is in Hyogo prefecture, and the Miss Hyogo doll is in the St. Joseph Museum in St. Joseph, Missouri. So, I proposed Miss Hyogo Doll's homecoming 5 years ago. She had big cracks on her head, peeled skin, one foot detached and was dressed improperly. So we organized a committee in Japan, raised funds, and sent the doll back to Japan to be conserved and to have a 70th year commemorative exhibit in Hyogo. It was a big project. During the fund raising some JADE members were so kind and donated for her conservation. I appreciate your help so much.

Over 10,000 people came to see Miss Hyogo during the 17-day exhibit last March and April. Nine of the original American dolls who had survived in Hyogo prefecture were on display as well. It was a great experience for everyone to see these silent survivors of' the war in person. Many stood a long time, had tears in their eyes and read the panels on display which chronicled the past 70 years.

One of the most memorable moments was the first day of the exhibition. Mrs. Teruko Nakanishi, 75 years old, came with a picture taken 70 years at the farewell party of Miss Hyogo held before her departure in the fall of 1927. This picture shows Mrs. Nakanishi shaking hands with an American girl representative. The same picture appeared in the newspaper article on the display panel. The memory in her mind was so vivid that Mrs. Nakanishi tried very hard to see the doll again. She was, of course, extremely happy to have a reunion after 70 years. And her existence and her story impressed so many people.

Now Miss Hyogo is back in the St. Joseph Museum and is on special display until August 1. She will travel to St. Louis and be displayed in the Botanical Garden for the Japan Festival over the Labor Day Weekend. The Japanese Ambassador to the US is coming to the opening ceremonies to honor her. I am happy that I will be attending as well as ten members of the Miss Hyogo Fan Club who are coming all the way from Japan to St. Louis just to see her and to meet the people who took such good care of her. The people to people, human exchange has started, all inspired by the Friendship Doll Exchange. As Miss Hyogo resumes her ambassadorial role, she is a tireless reminder of Japanese friendship.

While visiting the 36 remaining dolls in the US, I had the chance to see many Japanese children's letters attached to the doll. I almost cried when I read them. Two years ago, I found 50 original letters In the Wyoming State Museum in Cheyenne, Wyoming. I sent a list of the names of the original writers to a local newspaper in Yamanashi near Mt. Fuji and found 4 writers still alive. Actually one of them, Ms. Kikue Mizukami, 82 years old, came to Cheyenne to see her letter in the summer of 1996. She was accompanied by her daughter and her family members. Unfortunately, Miss Yamanashi was in Japan at that time on display. She knew this but she still came and was overwhelmed by seeing her old letter. This is one example of how deeply American dolls and Torei dolls were imprinted into the minds of Japanese children.

Today, I am so excited to hear the story of Mary Louise. She is the first person I ever met to have the memory of sending an American doll to Japan. I am really looking forward to hearing her story.

American dolls had homecomings too. About 10 years ago, one Japanese company sponsored the homecoming of 92 original American Friendship dolls to the US. But they were shown only in 3 major cities. Since many of the dolls lost their passports and the letters attached, we can't locate their hometowns.

Now let me tell you about the second generation friendship doll exchange between the US and Japan. The second generation friendship doll giving was initiated by Dr. Sidney Gulick, 3d, grandson of the initiator, and his wife Frances who are both math professors at the University of Maryland. When he visited Japan, he was deeply impressed over how the Japanese cherish the dolls and respect the effort of his grandfather and his supporters. In recognition of the historical significance of this, he made plans to send "Dolls of Friendship II" to the schools and kindergartens which had preserved their first dolls with love and care for such a long time. This was surely the rekindling of the wish held by his grandfather. For the past 11 years, the couple has presented more than 100 friendship dolls, all handmade by Frances Gulick, to the Japanese children. It's a lot of work and effort for individuals to accomplish. I really admire their efforts.

On March 3,1992, immediately after I came to know of the existence of Miss Tokushima at Cheney Cowles Museum (now known as Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture) in Spokane by newspaper, I organized a Doll Festival at the museum where Miss Tokushima had been carefully preserved. I wanted to share the heartwarming history of the Ambassador Doll with the students of our Institute and to express our heartfelt gratitude to the town people and to the museum for having looked after the doll so well.

Since then, we have been celebrating the Doll Festival on March 3 every year on our campus inviting many citizens, especially school children. In 1993 we initiated a new Friendship Doll Program, inspired very much by the actions of Drs. Gulick, 3d, and their grandfather's vision. Backed by our mother institution, Mukogawa Gakuin in Japan, we began fundraising in the Fall. Then traditional Japanese dolls are bought, hand-made or ready-made dolls are donated, and they are all shipped to Spokane. We in turn give them to American children. Through this program about 500 Japanese dolls in 228 sets were given to elementary schools, community centers, circulating cultural boxes, and museums where the original Friendship Dolls are kept in 34 states.

If you are interested in recommending a certain educational institution who you know is eager to introduce multi-cultural education through dolls, please let us know. Recommendation forms for the 1998 Friendship Doll recipients will be ready in October at the JCC.

This is the second generation Friendship Doll exchange. This is not just a mere exchange of the dolls. We always tell the noble vision and the idea of Dr. Sidney Gulick and the importance of mutual understanding and peace. We think the 1927 Friendship Dolls are the witness of long friendly relationship of our two countries.

Now I am happy to tell you the third generation friendship doll exchange started a couple of years ago. Some American recipient schools and educational organizations and individuals started sending new American friendship dolls, traditional and modern, handmade and ready-made, were given to Japanese children and citizens. Besides the dolls, books, art work, photo albums, letters, videos, and culture boxes are traveling across the Pacific Ocean. We call this movement the third generation friendship doll exchange. Marvelous!

Dolls are always smiling. Dolls are the best catalyst of friendly feelings. Although the messenger is a doll, the message is for people: the people of the past who cared so much to reach out, and the people of today - Japanese and Americans - who are building new friendship bridges and strengthening old ones. The seeds Dr. Gulick planted 70 years ago rooted firmly in the soil of the world understanding, and the young sprouts started to grow. It is my mission to help them grow in good shape.

I hope you will join me in the following way. I sincerely would like to ask your help to locate the 18 missing Torei dolls and any of the people who remember these events. Since Torei dolls are the present of Japanese children to American children, the American children and people should see them. Torei dolls and any of the people who remember these events would be a great find.

Thank you very much.

 Return to Page on Michiko Takaoka

Photo of Miss Akita used with permission from Detroit Children's Museum

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