In 1927 each of these artisan-quality dolls and her accessories was valued at $200. For comparison, a new 1927 Model T Ford could be purchased for $295 (or less!), and a Sears build-your-own house kit with three bedrooms could be had for payments of $40 per month!
Of the 58 dolls sent to the U.S., the whereabouts of 46 are now known, and the search continues for the remainder. During World War II, most of these dolls, as "gifts from the enemy," were removed from exhibition, and quickly stored or misplaced.
The dolls sent to Japan were referred to as "Blue-eyed Dolls," named after a popular 1921 song. Today only 306 of the original 13,000 dolls are accounted for. During World War II most of them were destroyed in ritual fires upon the orders of the military. The few which had been carefully hidden were concealed at considerable risk: the penalty for possession was incarceration.
Below is a hopeful, true story of the ripple effects of bottom up citizen diplomacy, and the benefits that occur when citizens who oppose their government's official stance, take action, and reach out to their sisters and brothers across the globe:
It started with a box filled with mysterious clues.
Missing for nearly forty years, the dented container was discovered in 1965 while cleaning out the old family home.
"Should we throw this box out?" her brother had asked.
"I guess," she replied, "but let's check to see if there is anything important in it, first." Inside she discovered curious treasures. Her name, "Mary Louise Williamson," was penciled on the back of a photo of a doll. Also in the box were children's drawings and handwritten letters in Japanese.
They wouldn't be throwing that box away!
Mary Louise barely remembered her church's involvement in an international friendship project in 1927, when she was six years old. The only detail that she could recall was her insistence to participate in the initiative by sending a doll to Japan.
After its rediscovery, the box ended up in Mary Louise's attic. When her church planned its centennial, members were asked to present stories to the children and she wondered if unraveling the mystery of the box's contents might provide a good story.
She found a translator at nearby Ohio State University. The Japanese writing on the drawings revealed the young artists' names and ages. The letters were from schoolchildren thanking Mary Louise and her church for her doll. Even the Japanese newspaper used as packing material provided a clue - its date of July 1927 meant that the box would have been delivered during the aftermath of the death of Mary Louise's young mother, explaining why she wouldn't have remembered its arrival.
The box was again forgotten for several years until Mary Louise wanted to find an activity for herself on Monday evenings while her husband practiced with his barbershop quartet. She joined the only group she found that met at the same time, a doll club. She didn't have a collection of dolls for show and tell like other members. But she brought her box of treasures and shared what little she had discovered about the Friendship Doll program.