Meet Fukue Atsumi
She’s pushing one hundred years old, but she is still as beautiful as when she arrived in the Children’s Room of the Fullerton Public Library in 1927. But who is she? The mystery of Miss Fukue Atsumi was solved when an old black notebook was found in the library’s historical archives in 1997. There, on yellowed pages was the hand-written story of her part in a long-ago plan for friendship and goodwill between the children of two countries on opposite sides of the world.
In 1927 an American missionary, Dr. Sidney Gulick, had recently retired from a lifetime of service in Japan. Knowing how much all Japanese children enjoy their annual Doll Festival, Gulick came up with the idea to organize an exchange of “Friendship Dolls” to help ease tensions between Japanese and American children. Amazingly, his request to the schools and churches across America resulted in more than 13,000 dolls being donated.
The 8th grade Sunday School class of the First Presbyterian Church of Fullerton was eager to participate in the project. They purchased a “baby” doll, dressed her in handmade clothes, named her “Esther California”, and sent her to join the thousands of other American dolls on their way to Japan, just in time for the Doll Festival, March 3, 1927. Esther, the doll from Fullerton, was given to the Fukue Grammar School in the small town of Atsumi.
The children of Japan decided to show their appreciation and send a gift of 58 very special dolls, each named for a prefecture of Japan, back to the United States. The 32-inch “Ambassador Dolls” were made by the most talented artists and dressed in the finest silk clothing that Japan could produce. When the dolls arrived in America, they were presented to various museums. “Miss Nippon”, the finest of them all, was given to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.
But the children of Fukue Grammar School wanted to do something special as a thank-you to the church in Fullerton. The students chose a lovely 16-inch doll, named her “Fukue Atsumi” after their school and town, dressed her in colorful Japanese clothing, and sent her to Fullerton, California, along when many colorful pictures of Japan drawn by the students. Unable to give her a permanent home, the First Presbyterian Church presented the doll and all the other Japanese gifts to the Children’s Room.
Miss Fukue Atsumi is not one of the original Ambassador Dolls, but she is a very special, very personal gift of friendship from a group of school children in Japan to a group of church children in Fullerton.