The Nevada Historical Society’s Friendship Doll, Miss Wakayama received a white and yellow peace cap.

The Nevada Historical Society has been the care takers of Nevada’s Friendship Doll, Miss Wakayama since 1929.

One of the Nevada Historical Society’s most endearing artifacts has a new accessory and a new story to share with visitors after more than 80 years. Miss Wakayama, a nearly 3-foot tall “Friendship Doll” given by Japan to the Society in 1929, was part of an exchange of good will between Japan and the United States.

Several weeks ago, Christine Johnson, Curator of Artifacts and Education at the Society, received a letter from a group in Japan asking if the Society would accept a “peace cap,” for the doll. “Of course, I accepted the offer,” Johnson said.

The peace cap arrived just in time for Veterans Day and will remain on the doll through Christmas Eve. The display of Miss Wakayama – named for a city in Japan – and her accessories is in a prominent spot just inside the gallery entrance at the Historical Society. There was an urgency to get the cap in place in time for Veterans Day, Johnson said. “This is both the 70th year since the end of (World War II), as well as the 88th anniversary of the arrival of the first blue-eyed dolls in Japan. The 88th year (of age) is highly celebrated in Japanese culture, thus the notion to celebrate the dolls.”

The doll exchange between the U.S. and Japan started in 1927. Dr. Sidney Gulick, a former missionary who spent time in Japan between 1888 and 1913, was familiar with how important dolls were in Japanese culture. To promote goodwill between the countries, he initiated a program to send dolls from the U.S. to children in Japan, forming a group called the Committee on World Friendship Among Children. In 1927, 12,739 dolls – also known as American blue-eyed dolls – were sent to Japan, arriving in time for the country’s annual doll festival known as Hinamatsuri.

The act of goodwill by the Americans prompted Japanese Viscount Eiichi Shibusawa to reciprocate. The country’s best doll makers were commissioned to produce 58 of the friendship dolls – of which Miss Wakayama is one. They were sent to libraries and museums throughout the U.S. Some states, such as New York which was sent three dolls, received more than one. Each of the dolls represented cities or regions in Japan and were named as such.

During World War II, many of the dolls in both countries were lost, sold, displaced or destroyed. Nevada’s doll, Miss Wakayama was taken off display at the time. Today, 335 of the American blue-eyed dolls are known to exist, and 46 of the 58 friendship dolls have been located – 38 in museums or other public institutions and the others in private collections.

In 1988, the Nevada doll and others were sent back to Japan for repairs and refurbishment, but all-in-all, Miss Wakayama has been in pretty good shape. She had a broken toe when sent back in 1988. Through the years, some of her clothing and auxiliary items were separated and mislabeled. Sheryln Hayes-Zorn, the Historical Society’s acting director and curator of manuscripts, has been working to get the full set of items back together.

School groups have already been visiting the Historical Society to see Miss Wakayama in learn more about the exhibit. The Japanese group that sent the cap also requested photographs of children observing the doll be sent back to Japan.

Hayes-Zorn said the doll will likely remain on display after Christmas Eve because of the interest and a message of friendship that still resonates after 88 years.

The Society would like to thank the RGJ and Guy Clifton for writing about Nevada’s Friendship Doll.