American Friendship Ambassadors
at Takasago Kindergarten

Erika
 

Helen

 

Erika and Helen have served as friendship ambassadors to Japan since 1927, when they arrived in the town of Takasago in Hyogo Prefecture. At that time the town's kindergarten and elementary school occupied the same building, and each school received one of the 12,739 Blue-eyed Dolls from America. Photos taken in 1927 show how happy the children were to receive the dolls. One photo shows children going around in a circle, each holding a doll. Two children have Erika and Helen in their arms. Another photo shows the two dolls making friends with a large Japanese Ichimatsu doll, which the kindergarten still displays. There is also a photo of the welcome ceremony held for the children of Takasago Kindergarten. The kindergarten kept both American dolls, and later the elementary school and kindergarten moved to separate locations.

The kindergarten kept the dolls safely for many years, but the passports with names that came with the dolls were lost. No one remembered the names of the dolls, so in 1997 Takasago Kindergarten asked Mr. Sidney Gulick, 3d, to rename the dolls. He is the grandson of Dr. Sidney Gulick, who originated the plan for the Friendship Doll exchange between America and Japan in 1927. Mr. Gulick, 3d, issued new passports for the two dolls, and he renamed them Erika and Helen.

 
Painting of Erika and Helen
in School Auditorium
 
A person's 70th birthday in Japan is an especially important celebration, so Takasago Kindergarten decided to have a special Hina Matsuri (Doll Festival) assembly for Erika and Helen in March 1997 to celebrate the two dolls' 70th birthday. Many of the dolls' old friends, 18 students from 1927 and 4 previous kindergarten directors, came from all over Japan. Chiyoko Murakami, a teacher at the kindergarten in 1927 and later the director for many years, was one of the special guests. Yoshiko Maruyama (76 years old at the time), who held the doll going into the auditorium as the student representative at the 1927 welcoming ceremony, said, "I moved to Tokyo when I was in the third grade, and little by little I have forgotten Takasago Kindergarten, but only the dolls do I remember well. It's deeply touching to meet these friends again after 70 years who are still just as pretty as long ago."

Erika and Helen continue their mission of friendship and goodwill. The children love them very much and use them as subjects for their artwork. The two friendship doll ambassadors also sometimes leave Takasago, such as a 1997 exhibit with Miss Hyogo, one of the Japanese Friendship Dolls from 1927, and six other American Friendship Dolls in Hyogo Prefecture. In 2002, the two dolls traveled to Los Angeles to be part of the Friendship Doll exhibition at the Japanese American National Museum.

Takasago Kindergarten now has a whole family of Friendship Dolls from America. A younger sister named Katie arrived from Kansas in 1997. The Japanese American National Museum gave Takasago two more dolls, named Mia and Hailey, in 2002 to express their appreciation for Takasago's lending of their two dolls from 1927 for the Friendship Doll exhibition in Los Angeles.

Web page prepared with material provided by Takasago Kindergarten.
Quotation from article published in Sankei Shimbun.

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