by Bill Gordon

Friendship Visits
Yamakataya Department Store
June 1, 2003

(from left) Sumio Nemoto, Ichiro Sakamoto,
Bill Gordon, Noriko Gordon

Yamakataya Department Store in Kagoshima City has a long relationship with Miss Kagoshima, the Friendship Doll Ambassador sent from Japan to American children in 1927. Yamakataya exhibited Miss Kagoshima in October 1927 before the doll was sent to the U.S. along with 57 other Ambassador Dolls. In December 2002, 75 years later, Miss Kagoshima made a homecoming visit to Yamakataya, and over 12,000 people went to the special six-day exhibit. (Many Americans think of Wal-Mart or Sears when they hear "department store," but Japanese department stores in major cities are more like Macy's of New York about 50 years ago. Japanese department stores frequently sponsor art exhibitions. For example, a couple of years ago I went to a Nagoya department store to see an exhibit of paintings by Leonardo da Vinci and other European artists.)

Photo of Miss Kagoshima 
In early May, I received an e-mail note from Rosie Skiles, one of the leaders of J.A.D.E. (Japanese Asian Doll Enthusiasts) who has done much research on the Japanese Friendship Dolls from 1927. She mentioned at the end of her note that Mr. Sumio Nemoto of Yamakataya Department Store was very appreciative of the new Friendship Dolls sent to Kagoshima by J.A.D.E. members, and Rosie hoped more people would join in this effort. My wife and I planned to go to Kagoshima Prefecture for 3 or 4 days during our 2003 vacation to Japan in order to visit the Kamikaze Peace Museum in Chiran and the Air Base Museum in Kanoya, so we thought this would be a good opportunity to see Mr. Nemoto in Kagoshima City.

I scheduled the visit for Sunday, thinking this would be a free day that Mr. Nemoto could meet with us. But Sunday is the busiest day for a Japanese department store, and most employees work on this day. However, Mr. Nemoto and Ichiro Sakamoto, two of the organizers of the December 2002 Miss Kagoshima Homecoming Exhibition, met with us for over an hour.

Mr. Nemoto and Mr. Sakamoto had many Friendship Doll materials ready when we arrived. They showed us many photos from the December 2002 exhibition, and they explained some of the exhibition items in addition to Miss Kagoshima. These included the only American Friendship Doll left in Miyazaki Prefecture, an American Friendship Doll borrowed from Yoshitoku Doll Company in Tokyo, 1927 newspaper articles about the arrival of the American Friendship Dolls, and 17 thank-you letters sent in 1927 by the children of Kagoshima together with Miss Kagoshima. Yamakataya also exhibited a note from Rosie Skiles, who in 1997 found Miss Kagoshima in the Phoenix History Museum after having been in storage for many years. Mr. Nemoto and Mr. Sakamoto gave us a beautiful framed photo of Miss Kagoshima, which we placed in our living room upon returning home. They also provided other materials for my Friendship Dolls web site, including newspaper articles, a copy of one of the 1927 letters from a Kagoshima school, a video of the opening ceremony for the exhibition, and a video of various television news clips about the exhibition.

None of the 209 American Friendship Dolls sent to Kagoshima Prefecture in 1927 have been found because they were destroyed or lost during World War II. However, some members of J.A.D.E. have sent new Friendship Dolls to Kagoshima with the coordination of Yamakataya Department Store. For example, Jinpu Gakuen School received two dolls from Lucille Supple. This school has 86 students from grades 1 to 12, and it serves as a residential school for neglected or abused children. The children showed their appreciation for the dolls in thank-you letters, such as one below from a girl at the school:

Dear Lucille Supple,

Hello. My name is Azusa Shirahama, and I live in Kagoshima Prefecture. On March 17, the dolls named Anna Mae and Pauli arrived. Both Anna Mae and Pauli are very cute, and they are now on display.

I also have a sister two years younger than I. I was very surprised that you made both of my very close friends Anna Mae and Pauli by hand.

You wrote that you really like to make children happy. I also love children. Especially, I think than Anna is really cute with her well-matched clothes and hat filled with much tender love from you.

In the future I want the dolls to be displayed as our treasures. I think there are many things ahead for us. Please take good care of yourself. I also want to try to do my best.

Azusa Shirahama

Miss Kagoshima's homecoming and these new dolls from J.A.D.E. members have revived in Kagoshima Prefecture the dolls' message of friendship and peace between countries.

Friendship Visits - May and June 2003

Special thanks to Rosie Skiles for all her efforts to
   revive the spirit of the Friendship Dolls in Kagoshima Prefecture.
Letter to Lucille Supple used with permission.

Web page on Miss Kagoshima

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