Miss Iwate Gets a Makeover!
Miss Iwate will soon be ready for her “big reveal” after a major makeover in Japan. The lovely lass is 89 years old, but doesn’t look a day over 6.
The Birmingham Public Library (BPL), in partnership with the Japan America Society of Alabama (JASA), is planning an extraordinary Cherry Blossom Festival for March 2016 around the return of BPL’s friendship doll, Miss Iwate. Miss Iwate, who has called BPL home since 1928, went to Japan in September 2015 for long-awaited restoration work and will return to Birmingham just in time for the festival.
Miss Iwate’s Story
Miss Iwate, a doll made by master Japanese doll makers, came to the United States in 1927 as part of a goodwill effort during a period of growing tension between the United States and Japan. Dr. Sidney Lewis Gulick, an American missionary to Japan, organized an effort to raise funds to send dolls to the children of Japan in an effort to ease tensions. About 12,700 dolls American-made dolls were sent to schools across Japan. These “Friendship Dolls” were quite a sensation among Japanese school children and soon became known as the “blue-eyed dolls”. The Japanese were overwhelmed by this gesture of goodwill. Dolls carry a special place in Japanese culture. They are treasured family heirlooms passed on from mother to daughter through generations, and daughters take them into their new households when they marry.
The people of Japan wanted to reciprocate this generous gift. Eiichi Shibusawa, a prominent businessman and educator, led the effort to collect money from children throughout Japan to pay for the making of special dolls to be sent to the United States. About 100 master doll makers were commissioned to create 58 dolls of the highest quality to represent the prefectures, cities, and colonies of Japan. Each doll was accompanied by a complete Japanese tea set, furniture, shoes, and even a passport.
The 58 Friendship Dolls toured the United States before being given to cultural organizations throughout the country. At that time, Birmingham, like many cities of its size, did not have a large cultural institution in which to place Miss Iwate. The Birmingham Museum of Art did not open until 1951. So Miss Iwate (named for Iwate Prefecture), arrived at BPL in July 1928 to great fanfare. Since then, Miss Iwate has served her mission well. Through the years, she has been put on display to the delight of the area’s children and has facilitated knowledge and understanding of Japanese culture. Accompanying Miss Iwate were 28 letters written by students from Iwate. The letters have been carefully preserved in BPL’s Archives Department.
The fate of the blue-eyed dolls and the Japanese dolls vary greatly. Many of the blue-eyed dolls were destroyed during World War II when the Ministry of Education made it clear that removing the dolls from the schools and burning them was preferable to keeping them. All but 334 dolls have been lost. The Friendship Dolls, however, fared much better. Because they were placed in cultural institutions the same year they arrived, and probably due to the master craftsmanship, more than 40 have survived.
The Birmingham Public Library has treated Miss Iwate as an honored guest since her arrival. However, over time she has experienced some wear and tear and was in need of restoration work.
Mr. Masaru Aoki of Yoshitoku Doll Company came to Birmingham and took her back to Japan in September of 2015. Her restoration was completed in October. The artisan who oversaw the restoration was the son of the doll maker who made Miss Iwate. Since December 24, 2015, she has been on display at the Iwate Prefectural Museum in Morioka, Iwate where she is accompanied by one of the “blue-eyed dolls” of the 1927 doll exchange. This doll belongs to an elementary school in Rikuzentakata which was hard hit by the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011. The doll was believed to have been washed away; however, she was later recovered. This same doll was set on fire during World War II but was saved, thanks to the intervention of a teacher. Two "satogaeri" (homecoming) celebrations were held for her on February 2 and February 22, 2016 at two elementary schools in Iwate.
Miss Iwate will return to BPL in mid-March, ready to resume her mission as ambassador of friendship with renewed enthusiasm. BPL will hold two big "welcome home" celebrations for her; the first on March 19 at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens as part of the Japan America Society of Alabama's annual Cherry Blossom Festival, and the second on March 20 at the Birmingham Public Library.
1:30 to 3:00 p.m., Linn-Henley Lecture Hall, Garden Center, BBG
A “welcome home” reception will be held for Miss Iwate. Students from Phillips Academy, a K-8 school in the Birmingham City Schools system, will recite original haiku. Students from Highlands Day School, a private school in Birmingham, will sing Japanese children’s songs. Koji and Laurie Arizumi, a husband/wife duo, will perform Japanese music.
Tea Party and Alan Pate Lecture, Sunday, March 20, Arrington Auditorium, Birmingham Public Library
· 2:30 to 3:30 p.m.
A tea party will be held in the Arrigton Auditorium in the Linn-Henley Research Library. The local chapter of the Urasenke School of Tea will perform a tea ceremony. Children and adults are encouraged to bring their favorite dolls, action figures, etc. Light refreshments will be served.
· 4:00 to 5:30 p.m.
Alan Scott Pate of Tampa, Florida, a noted expert on the Friendship Dolls, will discuss their history and significance. Japanese –style refreshments will be served. The event is free, but please register to attend.