Thur. June 14th – World Doll Day

World Doll Day – Miss Wakayama

Miss Wakayama, 1927

Did you know that on Thursday, June 14th is World Doll Day?

Come and visit our State’s most important World Ambassador, Miss Wakayama, Nevada’s Japanese Friendship Doll at the Nevada Historical Society. As we say, NHS celebrates World Doll Day everyday.

World Doll Day was established on June 14th, 1986 to celebrate not only dolls, but caring, nurturing love and the people offering it. Dolls are a significant symbol in early childhood for both girls and boys.

These dolls were not simple gifts, nor were their expressions of desire for friendship insignificant. For a complex set of economic, political, and emotional reasons, the early 20th century saw a steep rise in anti-Japanese sentiment within the United States. Centered in California, this ultimately spilled over into the national debate and resulted in the Immigration Act of 1924 which effectively stopped Japanese immigration to America and severely limited rights of Japanese already living in the United States. In an effort to rehabilitate Japanese-American relations by starting with the children of these two countries, the Rev. Sidney Gulick (1860-1945), working through the Committee on World Friendship Among Children, developed a doll exchange program and in the spring of 1927 sent 12,739 “blue-eyed” dolls from the children of the U.S. to the children of Japan as a “gesture of goodwill and friendship.”

Prior to their departure for the United States the dolls were sent individually to their sponsoring cities and prefectures for sending off parties where songs were sung and well wishes were cast upon the dolls by adoring children and surprisingly moved adults. The exceptionally high cost of the dolls had been partially defrayed by the contribution from nearly 2,610,000 children across the country and they were anxious to see their “representatives” prior to departing. Photos taken of these events help to convey the seriousness with which this endeavor was viewed in Japan. A final official sendoff ceremony presided over by Shibusawa Eiichi was held in Tokyo on November 4th, but only included the display of a portion of the dolls. From there the entire group departed from the port of Yokohama.

All Fifty-eight Friendship Dolls arrived in San Francisco in 1927. Photos in such magazines as Everyland show that the dolls were originally shipped from Japan in waist-high wooden crates packed with excelsior. Their arrival in San Francisco was only the first stop of a very long journey. From there, a small group of seventeen, including Miss Japan, traveled overland by train and were exhibited in Chicago, before going on to Washington, DC and then New York City. The remainder of the group traveled by sea through the Panama Canal and on to New York where they were all reunited. At this point they were all provided with individual stout traveling trunks with metal fittings, numbered to correspond with each dolls’ ticket number from the overseas journey. From there they began to journey across the country in smaller groups, generally of four to six dolls. In general, only one set of accessories accompanied each “mission.” The remainder was held under the stewardship of Morimura Bros, Inc in New York. Ultimately, the Friendship Dolls made over 1,000 appearances in some 479 different cities.

Identification of the dolls was achieved in several ways. The stands bore the names of the original prefectures, cities, or territorial holdings in both English and Japanese etched into a brass plaque on the front. The kimono of each doll bore crests specifically associated with their original location. The furnishings, as well, bore these crests. They each carried passports with their names and steamship tickets tucked into the sleeves of their kimono. And, finally, the trunks were numbered to correspond with a doll cross-referenced with their ship ticket.

By 1929 the dolls were settled in libraries, museums, and cultural institutions across the country where they continued in varying ways their “duties” as cultural ambassadors. The outbreak of hostilities between the two countries in 1941, however, rendered manifestly inappropriate the public display of Japanese dolls calling for “friendship and goodwill.” In Japan, government orders were enacted mandating the destruction of all of the “blue-eyed” dolls originally sent in 1927, calling them: “Friendship dolls with a mask!” Public pyres were set up for the burning of these little dolls, accompanied by the requisite anti-American chants and demonstrations of national pride. It was only through the courage and extraordinary personal risks taken by individuals who hid some of these dolls from the Japanese government that any of these earlier dolls survived. At present 323 of the “blue-eyed” dolls have been rediscovered. Meanwhile in America, all of the dolls (with the sole exception of Miss Kagawa in Raleigh, NC) were removed from their respective displays and placed into storage. As years passed, some of the dolls were re-instated to their former positions, others were forgotten entirely. Some were lost or misplaced as museums closed, new buildings were built, or merged with other collections.

Information taken from the definitive book on the Japanese Friendship Dolls:
Art As Ambassador: The Japanese Friendship Dolls of 1927
Author, Alan Scott Pate, 2016.