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Essay

The 1927 doll exchange

By Kip A. Cates

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We live in a time of growing nationalism and militarism. The world is rife with prejudice and discrimination. What can we do to promote peace?

One way is to look to the past and learn from individuals who have worked for international understanding. A good example is the U.S.-Japan doll exchange of 1927.

The 1920s was a decade of growing tension between Japan and the United States. Japanese and Americans eyed each other with fear and distrust.

To counter this, two individuals decided to take action: Sidney Gulick, an American missionary, and Eiichi Shibusawa, a Japanese industrialist. Together, they came up with the idea of an international doll exchange to promote goodwill between Japanese and American children.

The project began when Gulick sent out a call to American schools to send dolls of friendship to Japan. Children throughout the United States responded enthusiastically to his appeal. By 1927, Gulick had collected over 12,000 dolls!

These were sent to Japan by ship from San Francisco. Each doll was accompanied by a passport, gifts and a letter of friendship.

When these "blue-eyed" American dolls arrived, they became a media sensation. A national ceremony was held to welcome them. Then, the dolls were distributed to every city, town and village as a gift of friendship from children in America.

In return, Shibusawa launched a national campaign to send Japanese dolls to the United States. Children throughout Japan donated money. Over 50 "ambassador dolls" — including one from each prefecture — were sent: Miss Nagasaki to New York, Miss Toyama to Kentucky, Miss Kochi to Pennsylvania, and so on.

The wave of goodwill lasted over a decade. Unfortunately, the forces of nationalism and militarism became stronger.

When war broke out in 1941, the American friendship dolls suddenly became "enemy" dolls. Teachers and students were instructed to kick, stab or burn them. Government officials ordered them to be destroyed.

World War II ended in 1945 and the "blue-eyed" dolls, it seemed, were lost to history. Amazingly, in the 1970s, several dolls were discovered. During the war, some brave Japanese teachers and students had disobeyed orders and hidden them away. At present, 300 have been found so far throughout Japan.

This 1927 doll exchange took place 90 years ago. It was a courageous attempt by two individuals — one American, one Japanese — to fight against the hatred and prejudice of their time. The surviving dolls are treasured as symbols of peace and international understanding. Each has a unique story to tell. How many are there in your prefecture?

1927年の人形交換

日米の政治的緊張が高まっていた1920年代。人形を贈り合うことで子どもたちの親善を深め、この緊張を和らげようという試みが行なわれた。日本では「青い目の人形」として知られている。

The Japan Times ST: November 17, 2017

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