Feb. 18, 2020

NDSU’s ‘Miss Okayama’ to return to Japan for repairs


NDSU’s prized “Miss Okayama” will soon take another trip to Japan for a second round of expert repairs. The 92-year-old Japanese-American Friendship Doll, which is housed in NDSU’s Emily Reynolds Historic Costume Collection, is slightly damaged and needs some special care.

Masaru Aoki, conservator from the Yoshitoku Doll Co. in Tokyo, is scheduled to visit NDSU on March 8. He will examine the doll and take it back to Japan for mending.

After restoration, Miss Okayama is set to be exhibited at a welcome ceremony in Okayama City, Japan, June 1-5. The doll is then scheduled to be on display in the cities of Bizen and Kurashiki until the end of June. Following those events, Aoki will bring the doll back to Fargo.

Miss Okayama is made of a material called gofun, described as ground oyster shell and a binding agent. The material becomes fragile over time, and some cracks have re-formed on the doll’s neck and left leg.

The doll has an extensive history.

Miss Okayama came to this country in 1927 as one of 58 “doll ambassadors” sent by the Japanese government. The dolls were shipped to the United States in appreciation for 12,700 dolls that had been sent to Japanese schools by America youth groups through a 1926 program organized by missionary Sidney Gulick. He considered dolls as a way for children to get acquainted with the customs and culture of another land.

Miss Okayama was first displayed in Valley City, North Dakota, before going to the Masonic Lodge in Fargo. The doll was then housed for several years at the Fargo office of the Red Cross. It has been in the possession of NDSU’s College of Human Sciences and Education since 1973.

Through the decades, time and movement took a toll. Multiple cracks developed in the doll’s legs, arms and head; extensive repair work was needed.

In 2001, the Okayama Japan-America Cultural Exchange Society arranged to return the doll to Japan for restoration at the highly-respected Yoshitoku Co. Its arrival at Narita Airport drew wide-spread interest, and the doll was the subject of Japanese national television news stories.

After the delicate work was completed, Miss Okayama was featured in several exhibitions throughout the Okayama area, and it was the subject of an elaborate farewell ceremony. NDSU welcomed the return of the doll to campus during a special luncheon and ceremony on May 17, 2002.

“The Japanese Friendship dolls are irreplaceable goodwill ambassadors,” said Susan Curtis, collections manager for the Emily Reynolds Historic Costume Collection. “They represent the goals of peace and friendship between the children of Japan and the United States. Miss Okayama survived the difficult times of World War II as a testament to the belief that peace is achievable, and the Emily Reynolds Historic Costume Collection is dedicated to preserving her history. Thanks to the generosity of the Okayama Japan-America Cultural Exchange Society, the group funding her restoration, we will be able to once again safely exhibit Miss Okayama and share her remarkable legacy.”

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