by Bill Gordon

Friendship Visits
Mikuma Kindergarten
June 5, 2003

Carolyn (right) and Other Friendship Doll

This was the first visit for me and my wife Noriko to a Buddhist kindergarten. Hitoshi Minagi, the director of Mikuma Kindergarten in Hita City in Oita Prefecture, greeted us at the train station and walked with us to the kindergarten. He and his father serve as priests at the Hita City temple of the Shinshu Otani Buddhist sect, headquartered in Kyoto. The kindergarten has over 100 students and was founded in 1926, one year before the school received a Friendship Doll named Carolyn Becker from America.

With One Class
I found out about Mikuma Kindergarten when I read a Nagasaki Shimbun article about the school's two Friendship Dolls. Mrs. Yamashita, a reporter who I met last year, visited the kindergarten early this year and provided Mr. Minagi with many materials and photos about the Friendship Dolls and the homecoming visit of Miss Nagasaki, the Japanese Friendship Doll from 1927. The two dolls from Mikuma Kindergarten participated in an exhibition from February to April 2003 of Miss Nagasaki and the other American Friendship Dolls remaining in Kyushu, Japan's southernmost main island. Mikuma is one of very few schools in Japan to have two American Friendship Dolls from 1927. The kindergarten has many records about the arrival of the doll named Carolyn Becker in 1927, but Mr. Minagi does not have anything related to the school's other Friendship Doll and does not know why the doll was stored away for many decades along with Carolyn.
One page from four cloth albums
of photos and illustrations that came
with American Friendship Doll in 1927
Before the morning assembly for the kindergarten's children, Mr. Minagi put on his Buddhist priest's black robe over his regular clothes and a long strip of colored cloth around his neck. He took in his hand a bracelet of colored beads, and he also gave us beads for use in prayers during the assembly. The meeting began with the children reciting the words of Buddha, and they then sang a religious song. Everyone at the assembly had beads in their hands, so I tried to imitate the others in holding the beads. Mr. Minagi went to the front, kneeled before an image of Buddha, and said a prayer. Next one of the teachers talked to the students about not bringing certain items (e.g., candy, cards) to the school since not all the children could get the item so there could be bad feelings. Mr. Minagi then pointed to the two American dolls sitting on a table in front and told the history of these dolls. Next he introduced Noriko and me to the children. I gave them a fun lesson about the rules to follow when shaking hands, and I presented each of the teachers with a Japanese-American friendship pin with the two countries' flags.
Hand Signals from Children
After the assembly, Noriko and I gave separate presentations to the two classes of four-year-olds and two classes of five-year-olds. At the start of my presentations, the children sat away from me, but they soon came closer and closer as I showed them items used by American children during holidays.

Mr. Minagi laid out on the meeting room table many articles related to the Friendship Dolls. He showed us the passport and steamship ticket of Carolyn Becker and four handmade cloth albums that came with the doll in 1927. The albums are about 20 pages each with clippings of photos and drawings from American magazines. The school also has a 1927 graduation photo with Carolyn sitting in the midst of the children and a 1927 photo of the welcoming ceremony for the doll. A couple of newspaper reporters also visited in the morning to view the Friendship Doll materials and to write about our visit.

Mr. Minagi gave us several nice gifts, including a Buddhist calendar with sayings translated to English, a couple of Buddhist education books for Noriko, and plastic bead bracelets used in praying. He helped us carry our luggage to the station, and we also received bento box lunches to eat on the train to our next school visit in Yamaguchi City.

Friendship Visits - May and June 2003

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