Yoko Kiser
Japanese Language teacher and Japanese Friendship Doll Liaison
at C.T. Douglas School
Acton, Massachusetts

from Mukogawa Fort Wright Institute Cultural Center News, March and April 2000

Planting Seeds of Friendship


Students enjoy the Japanese
dolls they made in class 

The moment I learned about the Friendship Doll Program, I thought our school should apply because it is one of the very few public schools in Massachusetts where Japanese language and culture are taught. It was almost like a dream when the news came that C.T. Douglas School had been nominated as one of the recipient schools. I remember Cathy, my assistant, and I just embraced each other and jumped with joy like two small kids.

The dolls arrived at our school around Hina Doll Festival time in early March of 1998. One was a traditional doll in a bright crimson kimono, and the other was a rather big, cute hand-made doll in a simple blue kimono with a red sash and red ribbon on her head. I was so impressed that they came with passports with their names. The first doll's name was Kanae, and second one was Kana, named after the 11-year-old Japanese girl who made the doll with her mother's help.

The dolls were introduced at a school assembly. I told the huge audience the history of the Friendship Doll Program, and that Mukogawa Fort Wright Institute had resumed the program. It is a very moving story. Then, the whole school watched me write the dolls' names in Japanese with a big brush and ink. There was total quiet and total concentration. It was quite a contrast with the uproar when the dolls were taken out of the boxes and shown to everyone. Teachers of the school and students oohed and aahed and applauded. Local newspapers wrote about the dolls' arrival and the message they brought with them, which caused quite a public response. All the students wrote thank-you letters and drew pictures of the dolls and sent these to Japan through MFWI in Spokane.

The long journey of the dolls then began. They were taken to every class, and the children became good friends with Kana and Kanae. Toshiba International Foundation has sponsored our Japanese program and some 300 children from K to 3 have been learning about Japan. The program has expanded to other elementary schools.

At Douglas, the first year our theme was Japanese houses, food, and clothes. In the unit on Japanese clothes, we studied kimono, showing our Friendship dolls. I put on a kimono and some children put on yukatas and walked on geta (clogs). The length of a real obi, sash, was a surprise. I can't forget the way the children said, "Cool!"

We showed our students the video of the Mukogawa Fort Wright Hina Doll Festival, in which there was a skit done by the Mukogawa students on how Dr. Gulick started the Friendship Doll Plan, and how it developed.

Another lesson was when the children watched the video The Blue-eyed Dolls. It tells about the 12,000 American dolls sent to Japan in 1927 and how they were welcomed and how many survived the war. There is a very touching Japanese song called "A Blue-eyed Doll" popular around 1910 which we sang together:

A blue-eyed doll, made of celluloid*, was born in America.
When she arrived at a harbor in Japan, she had tears in her eyes.
"I do not understand the language. If I get lost, what should I do?
Warm-hearted Japanese girls, please be my friends and play with me."
* dolls were made of bisque or porcelain

The children also enjoyed a Japanese-doll making class. We made the project simple by giving the children a piece of paper cut in half and told them to design kimono cloth and color it. The children used gold and silver paint besides regular colors. We cut colored paper in half for the kimono and collar layers, and used beautiful origami for the obi. Although our lessons are usually just a half hour, the children were able to assemble their dolls in time. All the dolls were displayed in the school hallway and what compliments did we receive from everybody!

The happiness and impact the Japanese Friendship dolls have brought to our school and the community is immeasurable. I would like to say again thank you to Mukogawa Fort Wright Institute for the dolls and the peace message they brought to us. Mrs. Takaoka told me in a letter, "How wonderful it is for you to be able to sow the seeds of friendship in the hearts of 300 children!"

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Reprinted with permission of Yoko Kiser and Mukogawa Fort Wright Institute

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