With all the bad news out of Japan recently, we felt compelled to offer something positive on the Japan front. On a beautiful spring day, with cherry blossoms in full bloom, we were very excited to have Alan Pate, an antique doll dealer and recognized expert on Japanese Friendship Dolls, visit us to study, document, and photograph one of the centerpieces of our collection: our very own Japanese Friendship Doll, Miss Nagano. Alan is currently doing the research for his upcoming publication, “Art as Ambassador: The Japanese Friendship Dolls of 1927,”and is in the process of visiting all of the forty-six known Friendship Dolls in the U.S. Our Miss Nagano is the 32nd doll he has visited so far. He also serves an outside advisor for the online Friendship Doll database project currently being undertaken by Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan, which DHS also participated in last summer.
The Japanese Friendship Dolls were part of a cultural goodwill exchange program initiated in 1927 by Dr. Sidney Gulick (1860-1945), a former missionary who had spent time in Japan. In an effort to ease tension between the two nations over the Immigration Act of 1924, which prohibited East Asians from immigrating to the United States, Gulick formed a group that called itself the Committee on World Friendship Among Children and its first project was to send 12,739 dolls (later known as the American blue-eyed dolls) from American children over to children in Japan in time for the annual doll festival, the Hinamatsuri. The Japanese returned the gesture by commissioning fifty-eight friendship dolls from the best doll makers in Japan and sent them over to the United States. Each doll represented a specific Japanese prefecture and came with a range of furniture and accessories. Many of these dolls were sent to cultural institutions throughout the U.S.
The Society acquired our Friendship Doll in December 1928 through the efforts of Emalea Pusey Warner (1853-1948), a prominent Delaware social reformer and leader in the women’s movement, and the doll was installed in the museum in Old Town Hall with great fanfare. That should have been the end of the story but it wasn’t by a long shot! Massive shipping mix-ups when the dolls arrived in the United States from Japan meant that many dolls were misidentified and their accompanying accessories hopelessly misattributed, leaving a tangled puzzle that Japanese Friendship Doll experts like Alan Pate have been in the process of untangling for years.
Case in point the Delaware Historical Society: We originally thought that we had received Miss Karafuto in 1928 when we had in fact received Miss Nagano. The doll’s true identity was not discovered until 1996, when Friendship doll expert, Michiko Takaoka, was able to definitively identify her from the distinctive markings on the doll and her clothing. The real Miss Karafuto doll is currently in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she was known as Miss Okinawa. Alan Pate’s recent research visit to the Society to study Miss Nagano and her furnishings has turned up yet another interesting discovery. Although we have the original Miss Nagano doll and her correct kimono, it turns out that we have the furnishings that were meant to go with the original Miss Karafuto. Alan was able to determine this by identifying the unique design mark on each piece of the furniture. We also have Miss Karafuto’s original stand.
Apparently we are not alone. During the course of his research, Alan has found many such mishaps and misidentifications and the problem runs so deep that all of the dolls and their accessories may never be able to be permanently reunited as originally intended. However, new research and careful documentation like Alan’s is aiming to set right, at least on paper, what originally went wrong. From our perspective, the acquisition of new knowledge about the collections in our care is an ongoing process, and sometimes it’s o.k. to be wrong as long as you keep moving forward. We look forward to learning more that will shed new light on Miss Nagano and her wider context.