Japanese Friendship Dolls

One of the 1927  Japanese Friendship Dolls

One of the 1927 Japanese Friendship Dolls courtesy NMNH – Anthropolgy Dept Smithsonian Institution Washington DC

Here’s another great ‘doll’ story: The ‘Blue-eyed Dolls’ and ‘The Japanese Ambassador Dolls,’ also known as the “Japanese Friendship dolls.”

It is basically a story about gift giving, and friendship with a little bit of odd history thrown in.

It starts with the odd. In 1924 Americans were paranoid about immigrants – go figure, right? – and had passed laws that basically kept Japanese and other Asian immigrants out.

But there were a lot of people who wanted to maintain our friendship with Japan, and one such fellow named Dr. Sidney Gulick arranged for thousands of ‘Blue Eyed Dolls†,” as they were called, to be sent by American children to Japanese children as gifts and symbols of our good wishes. He had been a missionary for many years in Japan, and was very familiar with the Japanese ‘Doll’s Day,’ March 3rd

The Japanese are also pretty particular about gift-giving, and it is part of their culture to reciprocate gifts in kind. They sent approx. 60 beautifully dressed dolls to various colleges and libraries and other public institutions in the U.S. in return.

This exchange, the thousands of American dolls sent to Japan in a gesture of friendship and goodwill, and the beautiful Ambassador Dolls in their kimonos that we received in return, is one of my favorite doll stories.

Many of the Ambassador Dolls are still on display across America, almost 90 years later. Although very few of ‘The Blue-eyed Dolls’ survived the War in Japan – estimated at about 300 – those that did are still very much cherished and on display in schools there as well.

Unfortunately, in a simple blog post there is not enough space to tell the entire story of these exchanges, but if this tidbit of doll history interests you enough, there is tons of information out there on the web.

† A blue-eyed doll,
Made of celluloid,
Was born in America.
When she arrived at a harbor in Japan,
She had many tears in her eyes.
I do not understand the language.
If I get lost, what should I do?
Warm-hearted Japanese girls,
Please be my friends and play with me.

This song was written by Ujo Noguch in 1921, well before the 12,000 ‘Blue -eyed’ dolls were sent. So it wasn’t that they were first seeing our dolls, but the song lent the name to the Blue (and Brown) eyed dolls that were sent by the American children.