Here at the Delaware Historical Society, our diverse collections are at the heart of what we do and they attract history lovers of all stripes. We dearly love our research visitors but, every so often, it’s nice when our collections inspire something a little different. This month, I was delighted that one very special item, our Japanese Friendship Doll, Miss Nagano, was at the center of a very special reunion of old friends and admirers, some of whom had been directly involved with her conservation and return trip to Nagano, Japan back in 2004.
Miss Nagano is one of the original fifty-eight Friendship Dolls that were sent to the U.S. from Japan in 1927 as goodwill ambassadors. These dolls were destined for museums all over the country and we acquired ours in 1928 through the diligent efforts of Emalea Pusey Warner (1853-1948), a prominent Delaware social reformer and leader in the Women’s Movement. Since then, Miss Nagano has been with us through all the ups and downs of world history and remains a centerpiece of our collection.
Fortunately, interest in the Friendship Dolls and what they were meant to represent also survived the years, and, with the discovery of our doll’s true identity as Miss Nagano in 1996 (she was originally billed as Miss Karafuto) discussions got underway with regard to a return visit to Nagano, Japan. In 2004, these dreams finally came to fruition with Miss Nagano’s return to Japan for professional conservation at the Tokyo workshops of the Yoshitoku Doll Company (where she and the other Friendship Dolls were originally made) and inclusion in a temporary traveling exhibit program about the Friendship Dolls in Nagano Prefecture. As part of the celebrations accompanying this momentous event, former Delaware Historical Society Board President, Ellen Semple, and then-Executive Director, Joan Reynolds Hoge, travelled to Japan to represent the Delaware Historical Society at the homecoming and unveiling ceremonies that took place in Nagano.
For some of Miss Nagano’s most recent visitors, including Ellen Semple and Masaru Aoki (a specialist in Friendship Doll conservation at the Yoshitoku Doll Company who was involved in Miss Nagano’s conservation), it was a happy reunion that allowed them to revisit fond memories of the 2004 trip. The visit and reunion were organized by Noriko Gordon, a Japanese-born educator, Friendship Doll enthusiast, and co-discoverer of the Miss Chosen Friendship Doll in Connecticut. Also present were Haruo Morita, a Japanese businessman with a passion for Friendship Dolls and their history, and Ellen Semple’s grand-daughter, Sarah Greenberg. During the visit, it was wonderful to watch Mr. Aoki apply his expertise to Miss Nagano’s kimono and obi, which he refreshed and retied in the correct traditional manner so she looked her best for everyone. It was also wonderful to see this diverse group brought together by their united interest in our doll and her history; and to have Miss Nagano continue to fulfill her role as a goodwill ambassador who connects Delaware to the wider world. Thanks to everyone who visited for making this another memorable occasion!