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American Friendship Doll
sent to Japan in 1927 

Kamikaze Images and Friendship Dolls

The topics of my two web sites, Kamikaze Images and Friendship Dolls, may seem far apart. Actually, the process used to create these two web sites turned out to have many parallels, and the two topics have many similarities from a research perspective. This page examines the connections between Kamikaze Images and Friendship Dolls.

Japan-U.S. Relations - The historical events of both topics involved many people in the United States and Japan, and each topic continues to generate interest in both countries.

In 1926 and early 1927, about 2.6 million Americans participated in a project to send nearly 13,000 American dolls to Japan as a gesture of friendship and peace. The Japanese Education Ministry distributed the dolls to elementary schools and kindergartens throughout the country. The American dolls were received in Japan with such enthusiasm that about 2.6 million Japanese children contributed one sen (about a half penny) each to have 58 Japanese Friendship Dolls made as gifts for American children.

Most of the American Friendship Dolls did not survive the war because of a 1943 order from the Japanese Education Ministry to have them destroyed, burnt, or thrown into the sea. However, over 300 dolls given in 1927 survived and continue to be displayed in Japanese schools. In the United States, 44 of the original 58 Friendship Dolls sent from Japan in 1927 remain with museums, organizations, and a few individuals. Not only have many original Friendship Dolls survived, in recent years several organizations and individuals have been active in promoting the exchange of new dolls between the two countries to encourage cultural understanding and friendship.

From October 1944 to August 1945, about six thousand special attack corps members died in suicide attacks (Shirai 2002, 22). The Japanese military leaders and press widely publicized the bravery and patriotism of these young men who sacrificed their lives to make attacks on the enemy in defense of their country. Numerous crewmen on U.S. Navy ships witnessed kamikaze planes as they tried to make suicide crash dives. Although the Navy censored release of information about kamikaze attacks until April 1945, the lifting of the information ban let Americans hear about these suicide attacks for the first time.

The subject of kamikaze continues to generate interest, primarily in Japan but also to a lesser extent in the U.S. Two recent extremely popular Japanese movies, Hotaru (Firefly) in 2001 and Gekkou no Natsu (Summer of the Moonlight Sonata) in 1993, have kamikaze pilots as their main characters. The Chiran Peace Museum for Kamikaze Pilots in Kagoshima Prefecture has over 500 thousand visitors each year. The book Kike Wadatsumi no Koe (Listen to the Voices from the Sea), first published in 1949, contains several letters written by kamikaze pilots and has sold more than one million copies.

In the U.S., the topic of Japanese kamikaze has recently generated interest as people hear about suicide bombings in Iraq, Israel, and other countries. Many Americans thought back to World War II kamikaze attacks when planes crashed into the World Trade Towers on September 11, 2001. Newspaper articles about veterans who experienced kamikaze attacks still appear from time to time. Over the years many English-language books and documentaries on kamikaze told the history of Japanese suicide operations and the wartime experiences of individual kamikaze pilots.

Research Methods - The methods used to perform research and gather information for the two web sites had several similarities.

Since sources related to these two subjects are spread throughout Japan, the development of both web sites involved trips through Japan to gather information and to meet people knowledgeable on the subjects. For the Friendship Dolls site, I went to about 25 schools to give talks to children and to get information about each Friendship Doll. I also visited several museums with Friendship Doll exhibits and met with members of organizations in individual prefectures that support Friendship Doll activities.

For the Kamikaze Images site, I visited 11 Japanese museums in 2004 to view exhibits, obtain books, and talk with museum directors and workers. I also met with about 40 men who served in the Imperial Japanese Navy, most of whom are former members of the kamikaze special attack corps.

Miss Kagoshima
Japanese Friendship Doll
sent to U.S. in 1927

American museums also supplied valuable resources for the two web sites. Several curators at museums with Japanese Friendship Dolls supplied me with photos, articles, and other information. A visit to the 2002 exhibit of 12 original Japanese and American Friendship Dolls at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles gave me the opportunity to meet several experts on the subject. As part of the research for this project on Kamikaze Images, I first stepped on board an aircraft carrier when I visited the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City. This ship's immense size and sturdy construction let me understand firsthand how the Intrepid survived five hits by kamikaze planes.

Many people in Japan, including journalists, museum workers, veterans, and authors, have given me a remarkable amount of resource material on the topics of Kamikaze Images and Friendship Dolls. With the valuable materials provided to me from Japan, I still have numerous ideas and resources for new web pages to be added to each site. My research also involved searching the Internet and establishing contacts with creators of Japanese sites and web pages on the two subjects. This collaboration with Japanese authorities on kamikaze and Friendship Dolls has provided me many insights that could not be obtained just by reading. 

I have a special interest in how Japanese teachers present the topic of war and peace to schoolchildren. Many elementary schools use the story of the destruction and burning of the Friendship Dolls during World War II to illustrate the bravery of the few teachers who managed to save them. Teachers in today's schools also emphasize the goals of the original doll exchange: peace, friendship, and international understanding. Starting in the 1990s, a growing number of Japanese schools have lessons about kamikaze pilots for students as young as children in upper-elementary grades. This web site has a section that discusses these lessons and also reviews children's books related to kamikaze pilots.

Translation - Both web sites rely heavily on information published in Japanese, including books and web pages. Although very difficult to quantify, I estimate there exists about 20 to 50 times more information in Japanese than in English related to both special attack corps and Friendship Dolls.

Although several books have been published in English on kamikaze and other special attack corps, many stories and details on this subject remain unavailable to English readers. In addition to this web site's main objective to explore Japanese and American perceptions of kamikaze, I have also tried to present different types of stories and information not published previously in English.

In comparison to special attack forces, the topic of Japanese-American Friendship Dolls has much less material published in English, especially on the Internet. Therefore, many opportunities exist to translate Japanese articles and web pages that contain new information for English readers.

Several large Japanese web sites cover the topics of Friendship Dolls and special attack corps. In contrast, although English-language web pages cover these two subjects, there is no other comprehensive English web site prepared by an American on either of these two areas. However, two Japanese sites, one on kamikaze and another on kaiten (manned torpedo used in suicide attacks), have many translated pages in an attempt to provide information on special attack forces through the Internet.

Angles and Links - The topics of Kamikaze Images and Friendship Dolls both have countless angles that can be turned into articles or web pages. Each doll has a distinct history, and many people have their own individual stories about a specific doll. In much the same way, each kamikaze pilot has his own history, and bereaved family members and other people who knew the pilot also may have their own stories. Moreover, many kamikaze pilots and other special attack corps members were waiting for attack orders or were in training when the war ended, and these people also have individual accounts about their experiences.

Local newspaper articles provide a valuable source of information for both the special attack corps and Friendship Dolls. Journalists often try to link local residents to historical events, and both topics provide many opportunities for this. On August 15, the anniversary of the end of World War II, many Japanese local newspapers publish articles on residents' wartime experiences, including those of former kamikaze pilots or those of bereaved family members or war comrades of pilots who died. As another example, Japanese elementary schools and kindergartens often call local newspaper and television reporters when they hold events related to their Friendship Dolls.

Many relationships exist between various pieces of information about Kamikaze Images and Friendship Dolls. Therefore, the ability to link to other web pages on the same site or to pages on external web sites allows readers to better understand these connections. If other web pages cover a specific area related to my two sites, I have tried to link to these pages rather than duplicating the information.

Since so many different potential stories and topics exist for individual web pages, I have tried to develop a flexible structure for both web sites to allow pages to be added indefinitely.

Intersections - During my 2004 trip to Japan, a former kamikaze pilot who lives in Kagoshima City accompanied me when I gave a talk to children at a juvenile protective care facility with a new Friendship Doll from America. As I did the research for this web site on Kamikaze Images, I found a few points where the stories of kamikaze pilots and Friendship Dolls intersect.

In one example, Shigeo Imamura, the son of Japanese immigrants, grew up in California until 1932 when at the age of ten he moved with his parents to Japan. He later became commander of a kamikaze squadron in the Japanese Navy. Imamura (2001, 6-7) saw the Japanese Friendship Dolls in San Francisco when eight of them visited Kinmon Gakuen (Golden Gate School) in 1927. When he moved to Japan in 1932, he become good friends with one of the grandsons of Sidney Gulick, who organized the Friendship Doll Project in 1926 and 1927 (Imamura 2001, 23-5).

Japanese Friendship Dolls with kindergarten children in auditorium
of Kinmon Gakuen (Golden Gate School) in San Francisco (1927)

The 1993 documentary novel Gekkō no Natsu (Summer of the Moonlight Sonata) tells the story of two kamikaze pilots who visited an elementary school near their Army air base in 1945. One pilot who had studied piano played Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata on the grand piano at the school, and the students warmly said goodbye to the two young men as they departed. The teacher who had heard the kamikaze pilot play Moonlight Sonata found out in 1989 that the school wanted to get rid of the old grand piano. She told a school assembly of her great love for the piano and of its historical significance, so the school decided to have the piano restored to its original condition.

The novel Gekkō no Natsu (Mōri 1995, 141-5) also relates the story of this same teacher's great sorrow during the war when the vice-principal burned her school's Friendship Doll from America. This teacher had seen the blond-haired American doll in a dress with white lace frills stored in a wooden box in the principal's office with the words "Mary, Massachusetts" written on the outside. Many of the American dolls cried out "mama" when moved, which the doll did as the vice-principal burned it for being a spy from the enemy. Sometimes when the teacher's two daughters said "mama," she remembered Mary's fate with sadness. After she heard that the school where she had taught also planned in 1989 to get rid of the grand piano on which the kamikaze pilot had played the Moonlight Sonata, she sadly remembered back to the war years when she could not stop the school's Friendship Doll from being destroyed.

Sources Cited

Imamura, Shigeo. 2001. Shig: The True Story of an American Kamikaze. Baltimore: American Literary Press.

Mōri, Tsuneyuki. 1995. Gekkō no natsu (Summer of the Moonlight Sonata). Originally published in 1993 by Chōbunsha. Tōkyō: Kōdansha.

Shirai, Atsushi. 2002. Tokkōtai to wa nan datta no ka (What were the special attack forces?). In Ima tokkōtai no shi o kangaeru (Thinking now about death of special attack force members), Iwanami Booklet No. 572, edited by Atsushi Shirai. Tōkyō: Iwanami Shoten.