by Bill Gordon

Friendship Visits
Takasago Kindergarten
May 29, 2003

Large Family of Friendship Dolls

My wife Noriko and I first saw Erika and Helen, Takasago Kindergarten's two American Friendship Dolls from 1927, at the Friendship Doll Exhibition in August 2002 at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. When we received a letter from the kindergarten accepting our request to visit, we were surprised to see a cute round sticker on the envelope with five dolls for the kindergarten's "Hina Matsuri Assembly for Friendship Dolls" on March 3, 2003. The school also sent us a CD with newspaper articles, songs by the children, TV news clips, and other information about the dolls.

The kindergarten director, Ms. Matsushita, drove us from the hotel to the kindergarten, where we met Kimiko Shimizu, the kindergarten director for seven years until her retirement in March 2003. She explained the history of the kindergarten's dolls and various international exchange activities. The reception room looked like a Friendship Doll museum, with photos, articles, books, drawings, and other items. The walls had several large photos of the two dolls in 1927, and the room also had several albums containing hundreds of photos about Friendship Doll activities.

Shaking Hands in
Front of Samurai Armor
At 9:30, the 94 children at the school greeted us with a song at an assembly in the auditorium. The children were quite excited to see Ms. Shimizu, the previous director. The stage at the front of the room had the kindergarten's five dolls standing together. There was also a huge display in front of samurai armor, which is shown during May as part of the celebration of Children's Day on May 5. I talked to the children about how to greet people in America by shaking hands, and we had fun practicing together.

After the assembly, Noriko and I talked separately to each of the four classes (two each for 4- and 5-year-old children). Noriko spoke to the children about the Don't Laugh at Me project, popular at many kindergartens and elementary schools in the United States. I spoke about American holidays and then answered questions from the children. Almost no one had heard of Halloween, Valentine's Day, or Easter, so they were very interested in the items I brought to show how American children celebrate these holidays. One 5-year-old boy surprised me with a question about my thoughts on the war. I just answered that now it was over, not wanting to go into any details with such young children. I received a couple of questions on whether there are koinobori (carp-shaped kites flown on Children's Day) and samurai helmets in America. The children were disappointed to hear that American children did not have such decorations. The children in one class became very excited when I asked them their favorite food at McDonald's, and they all wanted to tell me.

Energetic Class
During my visit, I learned the history of the dolls from Ms. Shimizu and from various newspaper articles. In 1927, Takasago Elementary School and Takasago Kindergarten occupied the same building, and each school received one doll. The kindergarten kept the two dolls, and later the elementary school and kindergarten moved to separate locations. Other highlights of Takasago Kindergarten's Friendship Doll history include:
One of Several Friendship Doll
Bulletin Boards
Takasago Kindergarten has participated in other international exchange activities. With the assistance of the Japanese Cultural Center of Mukogawa Fort Wright Institute in Spokane, Washington, the children of Takasago have exchanged photos, letters, and artwork with schools in Washington. The children at Takasago can view in the library several albums of items from these exchanges. In 1997, Takasago sent a Hina doll set to St. Joseph Museum in Missouri where Miss Hyogo is on exhibit. The children at Takasago also participate in the New Year's Card Art Contest sponsored by Mukogawa Fort Wright Institute.

Takasago Kindergarten's teachers, director, and former director gave us a very warm welcome. They provided me with many reference materials on the dolls, including a copy of Hello Katie, a 30-page booklet written in 1997. We hope some day to have the chance to visit again.

Friendship Visits - May and June 2003

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