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Dolls in Japan’s Yokohama museum reflect global cultures

Dolls in Japan’s Yokohama museum reflect global cultures

THE Yokohama museum holds about 10,000 dolls from 142 countries and regions across the globe. It regularly puts more than 1,000 of them out on display. What first caught my eye was the “Aoi Me no Ningyo” (blue-eyed doll) in the shape of an infant. According to the museum, the doll is one of about 12,000 collected by a pro-Japan American missionary, who called for donations of such dolls from the United States amid a surge in anti-Japanese-immigrant sentiment there in the later years of the Taisho era (1912-1926).

The dolls were sent to Japan in 1927 as a goodwill gesture and delivered to nurseries and primary schools across the country, mainly via Yokohama Port.

Many of the dolls were lost during World War II. While only about 340 of them remain around the nation, four are preserved at the museum.

The museum was opened by the Yokohama city government in 1986. The plan was initiated by a donation of dolls from the bereaved family of a woman who ran a pearl store in the city and collected dolls. About 2,000 dolls were donated from around the world.

Differences in the materials, costumes and expressions on each doll’s face can prompt visitors to think about different cultures and customs.

For example, there are dolls made in Kenya that are modelled after men with the upper half of the body naked. The display reproduces a scene in which the men are sitting in a circle talking. A Malaysian doll is modelled after a merchant who sells fruit at a stall.

The materials the dolls are made of also reflect the features of the areas they come from. Seashells were used for a doll made in the Philippines, while those from Belarus were made of hemp and wheat fibres.

A set of three monkey dolls from the African country of Gambia look like a sculpture of the three monkeys known as “Mizaru, Iwazaru, Kikazaru” at the Nikko Toshogu shrine in Tochigi Prefecture.

The museum also preserves many dolls made in Japan and exhibits traditional Japanese dolls from the 47 prefectures. A wood-carved doll produced by Goyo Hirata, who was a living national treasure, looks warm and soft as though it is filled with life right to the fingertips. Curator Saeko Ii, 40, explains the fascination with the dolls, saying, “When you look at dolls from various countries, you can feel close to people you have never met.”

The museum has a stage called “Akai Kutsu Gekijo” (Red shoes theatre) where professional puppet troupes give performances.

The Japan News

Published in Dawn, August 31st, 2016

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