By David Cranshaw
News and Public Relations Intern, Rhode Island College


Henry Barnard School is film site for documentary
on Japanese-American Friendship Doll exchange

Henry Barnard School, the laboratory school on the RIC campus, was chosen as a film site because of its participation in the doll exchange and its efforts to promote good relations between the two countries.

A Japanese doll, displayed in the Roger Williams Park Museum (Providence, Rhode Island) in 1929 and missing for more than 70 years, was discovered in Delaware in 1998. The doll was originally a gift to the United States as part of the Friendship Doll exchange program. The discovery, along with the history of the Friendship Doll Program, is the subject of an educational video that was filmed at the Henry Barnard School (HBS) on November 20, 2003, documenting the 77-year-old program between the United States and Japan. It will air in Japan in September 2004.

The Nagano Broadcasting System (NBS) of Japan chose HBS for the shoot because of the school's involvement in the doll exchange program since 2000, according to Brandon Lambert, spokesperson for NBS. The film will tell the story of how dolls have played an important role in establishing international relations between the two cultures

Lambert contacted Joan Bloom, associate professor at HBS and to the school's coordinator of the Friendship Doll Program, to arrange the filming.

In 1927, 58 Friendship Dolls, standing 33-inches high and clad in silk kimonos, were sent from Japan to the United States in response to the12,739 dolls sent to Japan from American children to encourage friendly relations between the two countries. The Japanese dolls were distributed to different locations around the U.S. One doll named Miss Nagano was given to the Roger Williams Park Museum in Providence in 1929.

As U.S. relations with Japan deteriorated and the two countries fought against each other in World War II, the Japanese dolls around the U.S. were removed from display cases. Many were not seen for decades. 

The last documentation of the Nagano doll in Providence was in a photo published in a Providence Journal article dated October 21, 1929. 

Recent research tracing the Nagano doll’s whereabouts showed that the doll had been misidentified. It had been labeled Miss Karafuto, representing a former colony of Japan. The mislabeled doll has been the property of the Delaware History Museum for decades. It was determined that the doll was actually the Nagano doll originally on display in Providence.

NBS has included the return of the doll in the documentary as part of a one-year agreement between the Delaware History Museum and Nagano’s Shinano Education Association. Footage of other Friendship Dolls from around the country and a send-off party in Delaware for the doll are also in the film. The Nagano doll will go back to Japan for one year, according to the agreement.

In 2000, three Friendship Dolls were sent from Japan to HBS for display. In return, HBS sent American dolls and a state scrapbook to Japanese students to help them learn about Rhode Island.

HBS Principal Ron Tibbetts said the visit of Nagano Broadcasting System and the subsequent role in the documentary are by-products of the cultural awareness program the students are exposed to at the school. The HBS curriculum encourages students to learn about different customs and traditions of other countries.

The history of the Friendship Doll Program dates back to 1926 with the formation of the Committee on World Friendship Among Children. Sidney Gulick, an American missionary who taught in Japan for 25 years, coordinated the project to send the first dolls.

Returning to the United States from Japan in 1913, Gulick found that Americans resented the influx of Japanese immigrants because they appeared to be taking many laborer jobs at lower wages and ousting the American workers. Between 1907 and 1924, the U.S. took steps to limit the number of Japanese immigrants in the country, culminating with the Immigration Act of 1924, which banned immigration from Japan to the U.S.

Gulick wanted the dolls to be a message of peace to Japanese children. Gulick believed that if Japanese and American children could learn to understand one another when they were young, they would remain friends long into the future.

Bloom said she is teaching this message at HBS because it is a good cultural experience for the kids. “The students understand that kids in Japan are similar to kids in the United States,” she said. “They can see that they can be friendly with kids of other cultures.”

Seventy-seven years after the first dolls were exchanged between the countries, HBS students are still fostering peace and companionship among the nations. And it has been captured on film.

More information on Friendship Dolls at Henry Barnard School

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