Doll leads students to learn about Japan
Since Thursday, Edgewood fourth-grade teacher Susan Springer and district-wide media supervisor Barbara St. Onge have been at a Japanese cultural center in Spokane, Washington, to participate in a traditional doll ceremony and learn more about Japanese culture.
Springer and St. Onge e-mailed photos and a message to the class Friday, and will return to school Monday, when the class will continue their in-depth study of Japan with an authentic tea ceremony.
The educators are also representing Bristol in a doll exchange program designed to help Japanese and American young people learn more about one another. They brought an American doll to Spokane as a gift from Springer's class, and they are returning with three Japanese dolls that will be given to the city.
In a phone interview from Spokane, Springer said that after the dolls spend some time at Edgewood, they will be on display at the public library, and then will be part of a traveling educational exhibit throughout the city.
"Other teachers will be able to use the dolls and the activities that go along with them," Springer said.
Springer said one of the Japanese dolls is holding a crane, made of folded paper in the origami tradition, which the class has studied, while another is accompanied by letters from Japanese schoolchildren.
Springer and St. Onge also participated in a 90-minute traditional doll ceremony, which is a big part of the holiday. Dolls are arranged on seven levels of platforms, with an emperor and empress at the top, and an array of other dolls on each of the levels below.
Some participants brought their own special dolls for the ceremony. "I brought my grandmother's doll," Springer said.
The ceremony featured skits and songs about friendship, she said, and ended with everyone singing the song "It's a Small World."
"It was just wonderful," Springer said.
Springer's class was excited to hear from their teacher Friday afternoon while she is still in Spokane.
"I think it's pretty cool, because we get to see what the doll looks like," said Megan Berloni after the class viewed a photo of Springer holding one of the Japanese dolls.
The class has learned a lot about the holiday Hina Matsuri. The Japanese girls set up their dolls in a public place, said Morgan Berloni, where other people may admire the display.
"It sounds fun, because the girls get to have a day off from school," said Amber White with a laugh.
Dolls have such special significance in Japan that in 1927 an American named Sidney L. Gulick organized the original doll exchange program between Japan and the U.S. to foster better relations between the nations through children.
The Friendship Doll Program sent 12,739 American dolls to Japan in 1927, and the Japanese sent 58 large dolls to America the next year as a gesture of thanks. Most of these dolls, which represented the 47 Japanese prefectures, four territories, the six largest cities and one for all of Japan, were sent to children's museums.
While many of the dolls on either side of the ocean were destroyed when the countries were at war in the 1940s, some of the originals were hidden and managed to survive.
One doll, named "Miss Chosen," was found two years ago in a storage room at the Science Center of Connecticut [name changed to The Children's Museum in 2006]in West Hartford. Springer's class visited Miss Chosen Wednesday.
The doll is unique not only because it is one of only 41 still known to exist, but because of her name. "Chosen" (pronounced "cho-SUN") means Korea in Japanese, and since Korea was occupied by Japan in 1927, she represented that territory.
A few years ago, people heard that the Science Center (once known as the "Hartford Children's Museum") had received one of the original Friendship Dolls, Science Center Director of Exhibits Richard Rich said. The center got a lot of curious phone calls, but weren't sure how to answer.
"Nobody really knew what was in the basement," Rich said. "Sure enough, we started looking, and we found her."
The 73-year-old Miss Chosen is beginning to show her age. Her clothes are faded and her ankles are held together by tape from an injury long ago. Rich said the center hopes to restore Miss Chosen and put her on display, but she must travel back to her original manufacturer in Japan for restoration.
"We're still in the process of learning more about her," Rich said. The children of Connecticut also received a second doll, which was housed in the now-defunct Ranette Museum in Stamford. The location of that doll, called "Miss Kobe," is a mystery.
Trevor Coburn said the visit to the Science Center was special because Miss Chosen doesn't get to meet just anyone. "We were the first kids to see it in a really long time," he said.
Rich said Springer's class was the first group to view Miss Chosen in about 60 years, but he imagined that classes visited the doll long ago, when she was new.
Some Japanese children will soon be able to get to know the American doll that the Edgewood students named "Rachel." She has black hair, blue eyes, and is wearing a red dress, said Lisa Kozlak and Morgan Sampson.
Unfortunately, the Edgewood students probably won't get a chance to visit their Japanese counterparts in person anytime soon.
"I think that would be pretty cool if we could take a trip to Japan," mused Samantha Brett.
Springer said a class trip to Japan has been in the back of the students' minds for some time. "That's not the first time someone's suggested that," she said with a laugh.
Photo of three Japanese Friendship Dolls
contributed by Leda Frank
Photo of Miss Chosen used with permission of Science Center of Connecticut
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