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Maureen McMullen, Published September 08 2013

Hina dolls continues tradition of global friendship

FARGO - Miss Okayama has had quite a journey. Though she is only a doll, she has played a significant role in a friendship between Fargo and the Japanese city of Okayama for more than 80 years. The doll was one of 50 sent to each state through an exchange organized by missionary Sidney Gulick in 1927 to diffuse tension and form a friendship between the two countries.

“There was a lot of misunderstanding about the Japanese people, and the Japanese had misunderstandings of American people,” said Ann Braaten, who is curator of the Emily Reynolds Costume Collection at North Dakota State University, which has looked after the doll since 1973. “Using dolls from both cultures was a way to teach children about what life was like in the United States and what people were like.”

At 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Miss Okayama will be present at the Northern Plains Botanic Garden Society’s ribbon-cutting ceremony at West Acres. The ceremony celebrates the launch of their Japanese Garden of Mind and Soul.

Along with celebrating the plans for their newest garden, the ribbon-cutting ceremony will welcome a set of Hina dolls as a gift from Okayama’s Japanese-American Cultural Exchange Society, in the tradition of friendship and gift-exchange between the two cities.

“If you get the children from both countries to understand each other, they form a friendship,” said Toshiko Kawabata, one of the visiting Japanese delegates from JACES. “They realize the importance of peace and friendship with other countries.”

Kawabata’s husband, Chikao Kawabata, president of JACES, explained that Hina dolls are part of a Japanese tradition called Hina Matsuri, which translates to “Doll’s Day”.

During Hina Matsuri, young girls set up intricate sets of dolls, complete with tiny furniture and food. It is believed that by arranging these displays properly, girls will earn health and good fortune – regarding marriage, in particular.

NPBGS will present JACES with Native American regalia by way of thanks.

The Hina dolls, which will be on display at West Acres all month, will eventually be kept in the pavilion/event center that will be located in the Japanese garden.

Named “Mind and Soul Garden” because of the soothing atmosphere of Japanese gardens, the garden will span two acres and feature a pond and Japanese-styled event center.

“A Japanese garden is unique. They’re big in the culture of Japan, nothing like what we have around here,” said Vern Hunter, a NPBGS board member and the architect who designed the event center.

While NPBGS hopes to educate Fargo-Moorhead residents about gardening and Japanese culture with their newest garden, their long-term goal is to provide a cultural asset.

“We’re trying to bring the community together through our gardens,” said Jim Anderson, president of the NPBGS.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Maureen McMullen at (701) 241-5542