Article from San Francisco Chronicle, July 24, 1997, page A17.
by Monique Fields, Chronicle Staff Writer

 

The Search Is On To Find Missing S.F. Friendship Doll

 

Japanese sent gift to U.S. in 1927

Standing just 32 inches tall, the little Japanese girl wore a kimono made of the finest silk crepe, had skin as beautiful as porcelain and hair styled in a bob with bangs.

But after she arrived in San Francisco 70 years ago, she disappeared, leaving no evidence of her whereabouts. Even her name is a mystery, but Rosie Skiles of Lafayette, Colorado, knows she exists and is trying to find her.

Skiles has been on a two-year quest to find the girl, which is actually a Japanese friendship doll that was among 58 sent to this country in November 1927 by the Japanese government.

The whereabouts of 40 of the dolls are known, but the missing 18, including San Francisco's doll, are the objects of an ongoing search by doll enthusiasts across the country.

"We know she arrived, we just don't know what happened to her," said Skiles, secretary of the Japanese American Doll Enthusiasts, a national group of doll collectors, dealers and doll makers. "I'm even trying to find a picture of her because the costume would help me."

The Japanese dolls were part of the Friendship Doll Exchange between Japan and the United States and a response to American children who sent more than 12,000 dolls to Japanese children to promote good will.

At least one doll was given to each state, with California receiving three.

 
Colorado's Miss Yokohama doll recently was found; San Francisco's doll is missing.

Photo courtesy of Denver Museum
of Miniatures, Dolls and Toys

 
 

Doll enthusiasts believe San Francisco's doll was housed at the San Francisco's Public Library and sold in 1980, but library researchers haven't found a trace of the doll, said Joan Jackson, manager of the Western Addition branch of the San Francisco Public Library.

Skiles has embarked on a determined search to find the 18 missing dolls, contacting the Japanese Consulate, American and Japanese newspapers and collecting photographs of the 40 dolls that have been found. Photographs of the dolls will be featured at the doll convention tomorrow and Saturday in Anaheim.

Skiles has sent countless letters to museums and libraries asking if they had a friendship doll in their care. That's how she found Miss Yokohama in 1995.

"Once I found that doll and was successful, it got in my blood," she said.

She has since found two more -- Miss Kagoshima in Arizona and Miss Fukushima in Utah. She wants to find the remaining dolls in hopes to reunite all of them in 2002, the dolls' 75th anniversary. But she would never take the dolls from their owners, she said.

The Japanese dolls were sent in response to 12,739 blue-eyed dolls American children sent to Japanese children. After they arrived here, they were given several receptions in the city, including one at City Hall and another at the Oakland Civic Auditorium, according to Chronicle reports in 1927.

Most of the American dolls were destroyed during World War II, Skiles said. Only 300 American dolls survived.

Skiles has listed information about the Japanese dolls on the World Wide Web and enlisted help to find them. Michiko Takaoka, director of the Japanese Cultural Center at Mukogawa Fort Wright Institute in Spokane, Washington, has researched the dolls and photographed 36 of them.

Japanese people have a great affection for the American dolls and the dolls they sent to America, she said.

"They are not just dolls, you know. They are ambassadors of friendship."

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