We who desire peace must write it in the hearts of children.  This is the story of an adventure of dolls across the seas, the likes of which has not before adorned the annals of international relations. And the spirit of childhood shall show us the way to friendship that lasts and to peace that shall stay.

From Dolls of Friendship by Sidney L. Gulick

Dr. Sidney L. Gulick had a simple idea he called the Doll Plan.  He believed the friendly face of a doll would sow seeds of peace in the minds of children.  Other Americans also believed in this simple idea.  In 1927, 2.7 million people from church groups, girl scouts, boy scouts, and entire communities were compelled to join this cause.  Americans sent 12,739 American dolls to Japan in early February in 1927, in time to celebrate a Japanese festival with a 1,000-year-old tradition called Hina Matsuri-The Doll Festival.  Because of the pageantry of this festival and the Japanese appreciation of dolls and gifts, the American dolls were treated to great celebrations at schools with parents and politicians honoring this international gesture of friendship.

In the same year, with heart-felt appreciation, led by an international statesman and long promoter of international relations, Viscount Eiichi Shibusawa and 2.6 million Japanese people contributed money and commissioned the best doll makers of the time to make fifty-eight, 32 inch tall formal display dolls.  These dolls are referred to as “return gratitude dolls” or torei ningyo.  Because there were fewer in number, the dolls were made over-sized, the size of a 5-year-old Japanese girl, and each with a unique kimono.  They arrived in the U.S. in late November, in time for Christmas 1927.  All the dolls, American and Japanese, came with passports costing 1 cent, one-way tickets costing 99 cents and many letters from both Japanese and American children with wishes of friendship.  In Spokane we are fortunate to have one of these original 1927 Japanese Doll Ambassadors, Miss Tokushima at the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture. 

Dr. Sidney Gulick’s Doll Plan generated contributions from 5.3 million people, and these two visionaries, Gulick in the U.S. and Shibusawa in Japan, both have connections in the Northwest.  Dr. Gulick traveled through this area and had relatives in Boise.  It was his last wish that his ashes be placed in three places he loved: Boise, Idaho; Kobe, Japan; and his birthplace, Springfield, MA. 

Viscount Shibusawa was no stranger to Spokane either.  In 1909 he led a group of Japanese businessmen on a prestigious mission which crossed the U.S. in an especially outfitted “Million Dollar Train.”  In early September in 1909, the group stopped in Spokane to tour local industries.  On September 9, 1909 events culminated in a special dinner at the Hall of Doges, which became part of the historic Davenport Hotel.

Coincidences continue.  Spokane and Nishinomiya established as Sister-City bond in 1961. Due to this long friendship, Mukogawa Women’s University (MWU) in Nishinomiya invested in a branch campus at historic Fort Wright.  In the fall of 1990 MWU students began coming to Spokane to study English and American culture.  Mukogawa also created a center and museum for Japanese culture.

Michiko Takaoka, former Director of the Japanese Cultural Center, originally from Kobe Japan, happened to see an article on the 1927 Japanese Friendship dolls including Spokane’s own Miss Tokushima in the special 1992 New Year edition of the Yomuri American, a Japanese newspaper published in New York.  So inspired, Mukogawa’s Friendship Doll Program began in 1993, and over 1,000 Japanese ambassador dolls with educational materials have been sent to schools and organizations in all 50 states and Washington D.C.

One might think these events as separate endeavors.  It is apparent whether an ambassador doll, or a business envoy, the past or the future, these events are tied together.  We all share the desire for peace.  One person can make a difference.

If you are interested in learning about the Friendship Doll Program, please contact the Japanese Cultural Center. 

Click here for Friendship Doll Nomination Form