I am Miss Kanagawa. In 1927, my 57 doll-sisters and I were sent from Japan to America as Ambassadors of Friendship. Our work wasn't all peach blossoms and tea cakes. My story will take you from New York to Oregon, during the Great Depression. Though few in this tale are as fascinating as I, their stories won't be an unpleasant diversion. You will make the acquaintance of Bunny, bent on revenge; Lois, with her head in the clouds; Willie Mae, who not only awakened my heart, but broke it; and Lucy, a friend so dear, not even war could part us. I have put this tale to paper because from those 58 Friendship Dolls only 45 remain. I know that someone who chooses this book is capable of solving the mystery of the missing sisters. Perhaps that someone is you.
About the Author
When KIRBY LARSON was researching Hattie Big Sky, she came across a 1920s photo of a Montana farm girl in overalls standing next to an exquisite Japanese doll. Kirby wondered what was the story behind their meeting? She did some research to satisfy her curiosity, but it would be several years before she could turn her full attention to the Friendship Dolls' story. Now here it is for readers everywhere.
Read an Excerpt
Early Autumn, 1927
Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan
Master Doll-Maker Tatsuhiko
The old doll-maker Tatsuhiko poured boiling water into the teapot with trembling hands and inhaled deeply. It was the last of his tea. He portioned out his breakfast rice and took a seat on a tatami mat. One of the blessings of growing old was that it did not take much to make his stomach content. And this morning his heart was so full that food seemed trivial.
Tatsuhiko studied the doll he had completed the night before, smoothing an almost invisible tangle in her black hair. Miss Kanagawa. She would be the last doll he would ever make. Could ever make. His hands shook so these days, and his eyes were full of clouds. It was difficult to think his doll-making days were ended, but, like bitter tea, this fact was best swallowed down quickly.
Though he wasn't like Kuritaa man whose endless boasts clanged like the chappa cymbalhe was proud of his efforts. His wife would be, too, were she still living. Miss Kanagawa was a doll like none other. The size of a five-year-old girl, she was even more exquisite than the doll he'd made for the infant Empress. Two hands like graceful lilies rested at her sides. Her eyes, so clear and proud, gazed into his own. Her delicate cherry lips parted slightly, as if she were on the verge of speaking to him. He was almost disappointed not to hear her speak, but he knew she'd been created for the children in the Land of the Stars, and not for him.
He had dressed her in their daughter's best kimono, in its rich print of blue chrysanthemums against orange silk. This was the very one his wife had stitched for the child's fifth birthday. Her last birthday. Tatsuhiko's heart had shriveled like a dried plum the day the sickness took their sweet daughter away.
"You look lovely, little sister." The old doll-maker dabbed at his eyes. The steamy tea must be making them water. "I know you will serve your new role well, and will carry the message of friendship honorably. But my wish is that you will find a doll's true purpose: to be awakened by the heart of a child." He fussed with the obi until it was tied just so and then gently wrapped the doll in a blanket.
Yoshitoku Doll Company was a mile across town, but the walk there was too short, even for his old legs. Too soon, Tatsuhiko was unwrapping Miss Kanagawa from the blanket, handing her over to the owner of the company. "Safe travels, little sister," he said, patting her long black hair. His troublesome eyes began to water again.
"Will you not enjoy some tea before you go?" The doll company owner was concerned for this frail man whose head bobbed like a koi at feeding time.
But Tatsuhiko declined. "My wife waits for me," he said. And without another glance at his creation, his masterpiece, he turned and shuffled away.
Arrival in America
DOLLS TO BEAR GOOD-WILL
Japanese Children Are Sending Them to Show Friendship for Us
TOKIO, Nov. 5, 1927 (AP)
Fifty-eight Japanese dolls, messengers of friendship from the children of Japan to the children of the United States, received their formal farewell yesterday from 1,500 Japanese schoolgirls in a ceremony preceding the sailing of the dolls for San Francisco aboard the steamship Tenyo Maru, which will leave Japan on Thursday.
The children read addresses expressing hopes that the doll gifts to the American schoolchildren, presented in appreciation for more than 10,000 dolls, which American children gave for the doll festival of Japanese girls, will carry the assurances of Japanese friendship for the United States.
The Japanese and American anthems were sung at the ceremony and Ambassador MacVeigh and Viscount Shibusawa made speeches.
This leg of our journey, from Washington, D.C., to New York City, we are riding as befits our rankfinally!sitting in seats, rather than closed up in our trunks, in the luggage compartment, hidden away from the exciting sights and sounds of this country called America. Elder Sister, Miss Japan, is on my right, unusually quiet. It has been some time since she has offered advice about proper behavior for a Doll Ambassador. Not that I need her lectures, but others of our fifty-six sisters certainly do. Miss Tokushima, for example. Weeping and wailing as we departed Japan. Shameful.
It is no small sacrifice that I will not see my homeland again. But I will shed no tears, choosing instead to live up to the honorable task bestowed upon me: strengthening the bonds of friendship between two proud countries. Such a mission requires true samurai spirit. Sadly, some of my sisters are lacking in such spirit.
I will let you judge my fitness by stating certain facts. When the Tenyo Maru sailed out of Tokyo, I was the first of my doll sisters to turn a brave face west, to accept my new life. I rode courageously through the city on the back of a motorcycle when we arrived in San Francisco. And I'm sure you can guess which of us greeted the American president's wife, yesterday in Washington, D.C., with dry palms and calm confidence.
Make no mistake! This job has not been all peach blossoms and tea cakes. I've endured my share of dolts who point and stare and think me from China. And, though offended to the core, I was outwardly serene when that one young girl asked if I could say "Mama" or wet. Perish the thought!
None have heard me grumblenot once!about all those grimy hands patting my kimono, that parting gift from Master Doll-Maker Tatsuhiko. He said he hoped that I would find my true purpose. Poor manhis longing to be with his daughter and wife had made a tangle of his thoughts. I know what my true purpose is. It is to be an ambassador beyond compare. And this kimonolovelier than those of any of my sistersis a fitting gown for one such as I.
Yes, Master Tatsuhiko would be proud of me. Through a multitude of indignities, I have worn a steadfast smile, holding my lily hands out to all in goodwill.
Miss Japan's thoughts stir. It is when we have had our hearts awakened by a child that we can truly call ourselves ambassadors of friendship.