Named after Sanogawa Ichimatsu, an 18th c. Kabuki actor who specialized in female roles, Ichimatsu dolls are an Edo era invention. They portray little Japanese girls and boys in their holiday silk kimonos and are sometimes commissioned by the rich as portraits of their children. The dolls are display objects, not toys, and are usually kept in a glass box. They can range in size from 5″ to 30″ and are especially valuable if triple jointed. A subcategory of Ichimatsu Dolls that is of particular interest to Berea College is the torei-ningyo or Friendship Doll. These are Ichimatsu dolls have their origins in the attempt by the Reverend Sidney L. Gulick to amend bad feelings in Japan created by the Exclusion Act of 1924, which denied immigration and citizenship rights to persons of Chinese and Japanese descent. Gulick, who knew Francis Hutchins, hit on the idea of sending “blue-eyed dolls” as ambassadors of friendship. He managed to have 12,379 sent to Japan by 1927. The dolls were very favorably received and in return, 58 large Ichimatsu dolls were commissioned from such noted doll-makers as Hirata Goyo to represent the Imperial Household, the 6 largest cities, the individual prefectures, and the Japanese territories of Korea, Taiwan, and Manchuria. Each Friendship Doll was furnished with accessories, including lacquered furniture, tea sets, lanterns, folding screens, parasols, geta (raised wood sandals), and other personal ornaments, not to mention passports. The friendship dolls sailed to America in 1927. They toured the country and were then given to museums, libraries and other appropriate institutions that had children’s departments. Many Friendship Dolls are now lost or forgotten, though efforts are being made to find the original group and some have even returned to Japan for restoration, arriving there to great local fanfare.
-Constantine Botimer, Class of 2019