Anne Charles / Sun Staff Photographer

Prof. Hirokazu Miyazaki detailed the history of the friendship doll exchange and citizen diplomacy between the U.S. and Japan at a lecture on Thursday.

March 9, 2018

Professor Explores Role of Friendship Dolls, Gift-Giving in U.S.-Japan Relations

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Delving into the story of a friendship doll exchange between the U.S. and Japan, a Cornell professor called for the examination of the connection between gift-giving and international politics at a lecture on Thursday.

As a peace correspondent for the city of Nagasaki, Prof. Hirokazu Miyazaki, anthropology, director of the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, said he travels to persuade different towns to abolish nuclear weapons. In November, he helped deliver an invitation from the mayor of Nagasaki to the mayor of Ithaca to join the Mayors for Peace. As of Jan. 1, Ithaca is a member of this peace promotion organization.

Miyazaki explained that his interest in nuclear disarmament stemmed from his inquiry into the U.S.-Japan “Friendship Dolls” project, which recently celebrated its 90th anniversary.

The project began in response to the Immigration Act of 1924, which banned the immigration of Japanese and other Asian nationals into the U.S., according to Miyazaki.

In 1927, Sidney Gulick and Protestant churches on the East Coast collected over 12,000 dolls from American children and sent them to Japanese children as a gesture of goodwill and friendship.

Miyazaki said that Gulick, an educator and a missionary, founded the friendship campaign because of his disagreement with this law.

“He decided to put his hope on future generations, he wanted children in the world to appreciate peace and friendship,” Miyazaki said.

To return this gesture, industrialist Eiichi Shibusawa had 58 dolls produced and sent to the U.S.

When tensions between U.S. and Japan grew during World War II, Japan destroyed some American dolls while American museums kept the Japanese dolls out of exhibition.

Miyazaki said that public’s interest in the friendship dolls gradually faded until the 1970s. One of the dolls, named Miss Nagasaki, went back to Japan for a temporary exhibition before returning to Rochester, where it is housed now.

“In a way, this reunion between Nagasaki and Miss Nagasaki showed that the project had come a full circle,” Miyazaki said.

Miyazaki then went on to introduce a more recent citizen diplomacy project titled Kids’ Guernica. An arts activism project inspired by Picasso’s 1937 painting Guernica, which reflected the atrocity of the Nazis and Fascists during the Second World War, Kids’ Guernica allows children from different countries to collaborate on open-ended arts projects that promote peace.

Last year, Miyazaki coordinated a Guernica project between Rochester and Nagasaki. Children from Rochester sent a partially-completed mural with their drawings, and children from Nagasaki completed the artwork.

Although he said these friendship projects are successful, Miyazaki called for a more critical look at the association between children and peace and at the gift-giving process.

“When we talk about diplomatic gifts, we often idealize the act of giving and the idea of altruism,” Miyazaki said.

According to Mayazaki, there is a complex relationship between understanding, exchange and collaboration. The intention, and the understanding of intention from the other party, plays a huge role, he said.

Miyazaki said that the act of gift exchange provides much to consider, whether the gift exchanged is “a panda, a doll or a cherry blossom tree.” He also urged scholars to pay more attention to the importance of international relations “within the act of gift giving.”

“[A] gift is a complex idea that does not call for mutual understanding,” Miyazaki explained.