Miss Iwate, Birmingham’s Japanese Friendship Doll, Is Going to Japan for 90th Birthday Tour

The Japanese delegation that will escort Miss Iwate to Japan for a four-month exhibition
tour and a 90th birthday celebration. Former Birmingham Public 
Library Arts, Literature and
Sports Department head Haruyo Miyawa (left) and 
her father. Dr. Ichiro Miyagawa,
sponsored a luncheon at the library for the guests

What: Miss Iwate's 90th birthday celebration and tour of Japan
When: Departs Birmingham on Tuesday, December 5, 2017, returns to BPL at end of March 2018
Details: Miss Iwate will be on an exhibition across Japan with other dolls as part of a traveling tour.

Miss Iwate, the Birmingham Public Library’s Japanese Friendship Doll since 1927, is returning to her homeland for a tour of Japan as part of a 90th birthday celebration. A group from Japan that visited Miss Iwate at the Central Library last week is taking the doll back to Japan for a four-month tour on Tuesday, December 5. The delegation includes Masaru Aoki of Yoshitoku Dolls Tokyo, which restored the doll before she returned to BPL in 2016; Hideo Akanuma, curator of Iwate Prefectural Museum, one of the venues Miss Iwate will visit while in Japan; and Katsushi Tsunokake, program director of Iwate Broadcasting Co., which is doing a documentary on Miss Iwate’s trip to Japan.

History of Miss Iwate and Japanese Friendship Dolls
An exhibit poster featuring Miss Iwate and her fel-
low Friendship Dolls
In 1927 the children of Iwate Prefecture, Japan, and the children of Birmingham, Alabama, participated in a friendship project. The Committee on World Friendship Among Children sponsored this project. The children of Birmingham sent several dolls to the children in Iwate Prefecture, Japan. The children in Japan sent 58 dolls to the United States. These dolls toured all over America and were later distributed among museums and libraries all over the country.

Miss Iwate was the doll that was sent to Birmingham and placed in the Birmingham Public Library. The Japanese children sent thousands of letters with Miss Iwate. The letters explained that in Japan there is a festival each year called the Feast of Dolls which is held in honor of their favorite toy. Dolls were precious in Japan, with some being centuries old and handed down from mother to daughter.

Miss Iwate, which is life sized, arrived in a black trunk with an extra trunk for her furniture. She has a chest of drawers, a sewing table, a complete tea service, two lanterns, and two small dolls to keep her company. Over the years Miss Iwate has been on display at the library for various functions. She was on exhibit during the Festival of Arts salute to Japan in 1967.

BPL’s Southern History Department cares for Miss Iwate, while BPL’s Archives Department holds 28 letters from the Japanese children that were sent to the US with Miss Iwate. Several of these letters will also be on loan and exhibited with Miss Iwate.

 Miss Iwate is visited by Ashley Hudson
Miss Iwate is available by appointment only through BPL’s Southern History Department. She cannot be held or touched. Read more about Miss Iwate at

“Miss Iwate is beloved by the Japanese people. She delights all those who see her,” said Mary Beth Newbill, department head of the Southern History and Government Documents Departments. “The Birmingham Public Library is honored to continue to encourage goodwill between the US and Japan by sending Miss Iwate back to her native land to tell the story of the Japanese Friendship Dolls.”

Miss Iwate will leave Birmingham with a Japanese delegation on December 5 and return at the end of March 2018. She will be on display at the following places in Japan:

Rikuzentakata: Rikuzentakata Community Hall, December 8-10, 2017
Rikuzentakata, on the coast of Iwate, was one of the areas hard hit by the 2011 Great Eastern Earthquake. Among the items that were rescued and restored after the great earthquake was Sumadaniel Hendrene, a “blue-eyed doll” which was given as a gift from the US in 1927. She is one of the dolls that was given to the children of Japan as part of the project led by American missionary Sidney L. Gulick in an effort to ease the growing tensions between Japan and the United States in the 1920s. After arriving in Japan, she was taken in by the Kesen Elementary School in the city of Rikuzentakata in Iwate Prefecture where she has been carefully kept and has played a role in numerous events.

After the start of the Pacific War of WWII, she was set on fire, but thanks to the courageous intervention of a woman teacher at Kesen Elementary, the doll was spared a horrible fate. The doll was a victim of the tsunami which hit with sudden force, and she went missing for some time. However, thanks to determined search efforts by people in the community, she was found inside a safe which had been washed away by the tsunami. Afterwards, she was taken to the Iwate Prefectural Museum and underwent various restoration processes. She is a unique and valuable artifact that overcame two major disasters of war and the earthquake/tsunami.

Ichinoseki: Ichinoseki Museum, Decembcer12-17, 2017
Miss Iwate will be displayed along with four “blue-eyed dolls.”

Morioka: Iwate Prefectural Museum, January 8-March 22, 2018
Miss Iwate will be displayed along with all 18 “blue-eyed dolls” known to exist in Iwate Prefecture.