One of the 331 Surviving “Blue-Eyed Dolls” (Aoi me no ningyo, 青い眼の人形) on Display at Tsuchiura`s History Museum
By Avi Landau
Relations between Japan and the United States during the 1920s, were not moving in a very good direction. On the diplomatic front, the U.S. continuously opposed Japan`s widening encroachment (and influence) on the Asian Continent, and at home there was growing resistance to Japanese (and Chinese) immigration. This wave of xenophobia culminated in the passing of the Immigration Act of 1924, which put severe restrictions on the number of Asians who could settle in the U.S.
Not everyone was happy with this souring state of affairs. And though, it doesn`t sound like very much, Sydney Gulick, an American missionary who had lived in Japan (and had grown to love the people), came up with an idea that has left an enduring legacy, at least here in Japan.
Gulick knew how important dolls were in Japanese culture, and it was his idea to send “friendship-dolls” to Japanese schools, as one of the activities carried out by an organization he had formed: “The Committee on World Friendship Among Children”. Each doll, and there ended up being 12,739 of them being sent over, was accompanied by a letter proclaiming friendship. (Gulick had campaigned hard- though unsuccessfully- against the passage of the Immigration Act, and continued to battle discrimination for the rest of his days). When the dolls arrived at select Japanese schools (there were not enough of the dolls to reach ALL the schools in the country), there was great pomp and ceremony, as the new American “friends” were welcomed to their new homes.
One of these dolls ended up at the Tsuchiura Kindergarten, the first kindergarten ever established in Ibaraki Prefecture (1885) – and apparently the 20th to open in the whole of Japan. The doll was put on display, and the object of great affection (as they were all over Japan) – until the outbreak of hostilities between the U.S. and Japan which marked the beginning of what the Japanese call the Pacific War (TAIHEIYO SENSO).
Suddenly considered “symbols of the enemy”, most of the long beloved “Blue-eyed Dolls” were disposed of, many burned, stabbed or mutilated in effigy.
The teachers at Tsuchiura Kindergarten were apparently more open-minded than others . Instead of “executing” their doll, they buried it – like a buried treasure, for safe-keeping, until after the war, which they knew would one day come to an end. Even more radical, is the fact that the teachers also protected, in the same way, their old school bell – which like all other bells was subject to a requisitioning order issued by the government. All bells were to be melted down for the manufacture of munitions. I`m not sure what the penalty would have been if these acts had been discovered – but I`m sure they would have been extremely severe.
The “Blue-eyed Doll” and Kindergarten bell were first put on display as part of a small exhibition on “Memories of the War” at the Tsuchiura History Museum located between the ruins of the old Tsuchiura Castle, and the Jinryu-ji Temple. There were numerous photos and personal memorabilia from the time. Other items of interest for me were a “rising sun” flag and which a young soldier about to go of to the war had asked 1,000 people to right the kanji character CHIKARA 力 (strength or power), and an elementary school textbook that had been censored AFTER the war – with a black magic marker. There were also dozens of short testimonials written by visitors to the exhibit who lived though the war years (perhaps I`ll translate some in for future posting). You can buy the detailed catalogue of that exhibition at the museum – it has pictures of all the items that were on display (with detailed explanations)
Tsuchiura`s connection to the war effort is actually deeper than most other small cities. Back in 1921, a huge Naval-Aviation training school was opened, and for the subsequent 24 years Tsuchiura was a thriving “navy town”. The pilots involved in the attack on Pearl Harbour actually did their training at that base – as did many Kamikaze pilots at the end of the war (though most of them had much less training!)
Today (February 27, 2021) I happened to at the museum – and found the Blue-Eyed Doll on display again! If you missed it last time – you’ve got another chance!
You can find pictures of many of the extant “Friendship Dolls” and the Japanese dolls sent to each American state as OKAESHI (a return gift) online. Have a look.