The City of Henderson has welcomed 70 visitors from Japan as part of a unique cultural exchange between Nevada and the country.
While these 70 visitors don’t talk, they do speak volumes about the history and culture of Japan. The guests are 70 unique dolls that make up “The Dolls of Japan” exhibit, housed in the Henderson Convention Center, 200 S. Water Street. The pieces are on loan from the Japan Foundation in Tokyo.
Far from simple toys, the dolls featured in the exhibit are works of art, displaying the costumes, pastimes and history of Japan.
The dolls in the exhibit include figures that depict samurai warriors, kimono-clad women, children playing traditional games, Kabuki actors and more.
The exhibit also touches on the two major Japanese festivals that incorporate dolls – Girls’ Day (Hinamatsuri) and Boys’ Day (Tango No Sekku). Girls’ Day, which is held on March 3 and is also known as the Japanese Doll Festival, features displays of Emperor and Empress dolls. Boys’ Day, which is held on May 5 and is now more commonly celebrated as Children’s Day, features displays of samurai dolls and miniaturized armor. Examples of both Girls’ and Boys’ Day dolls are included in the display.
Other intriguing dolls include pieces that represent traditional Japanese Theater arts. The exhibit includes dolls that represent both Kabuki and Noh performers. There is also a Bunraku puppet. This 325-year-old Japanese form of theater was founded in Osaka (though Japan has had forms of puppetry for thousands of years) and features jointed puppets who tell elaborate stories.
Kokeshi dolls are also represented. The simple wooden figures lack arms and legs and were originally created about 150 years ago in Northern Honshū, Japan. Today, these dolls have become an established Japanese craft and a favorite souvenir of visitors to Japan.
A historic piece in the exhibit is a replica of one of the Torei Ningyo (Dolls of Gratitude) sent to the United States in 1927. In an effort to improve international relations between the United States and Japan, Dr. Sidney Lewis Gulick came up with the idea to have American children send dolls to Japanese children. More than 12,000 dolls were sent to Japan.
In response, Japanese children raised money to commission 58 custom-created dolls representing the unique outfits and backgrounds of the Imperial family, the six largest cities in Japan, 47 prefectures and four colonies. Each 32-inch tall doll was created with elaborate care and feature hand-dyed and embroidered silk garments, porcelain faces and moveable glass eyes. The dolls also came with trunks carrying accessories (clothing, cosmetics, furniture, musical instruments, tea sets, flags, dishware and more) that reflected their background. Today, 44 of the dolls are still known to exist and the search goes on for the remaining ones. This exhibit has a reproduction of one of the dolls, so you can visualize what they were like.
The exhibit was organized by the Japan America Society and the City of Henderson and was made possible through a donation by local resident Bernice Fischer.
“The Dolls of Japan” exhibit is open Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free.