A master doll maker in the valley

You can find the usual kinds of dolls — LOL Surprise! OMG Remix Lonestar, My Squishy Little Dumplings, Adora Sweet Baby Boy Peanut, etc., pretty much anywhere, but in Japan you will come across other types as well: delicate and handcrafted figurines including head, hands and the feet are made with a floor. oyster shell paste called enjoy; some with lavish outfits; and hina dolls with very specific designations (“An imperial servant expressing sorrow”, for example, or “A family of dolls saying a prayer for the happy marriage of their female child”). These, and the many other types of traditional Japanese dolls, are not meant to be tucked away in bed with you or dragged to the playground in your stroller. According to ancient Japanese tradition, it is believed that they have a soul, that they absorb spiritual energy, and that they are only meant to be exhibited, admired and praised. Sometimes they were even used as replacements for humans. For example, newborn babies were given abstract dolls called “heavenly twins,” in the hope that evil spirits could wonder what the real baby was and take possession of the bad one. Dolls are still so revered in Japan that they are the focus of at least one national holiday, Hinamatsuri, and when the dolls are worn out or have fallen out of favor, they are not thrown away. Downgraded dolls often receive funerals, called ningyo kuyo, in Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. After the prayers, the dolls are gathered in a heap and burned.

Kumiko Serizawa (1928-2021), master doll maker, was born in Tokyo, during the Great Friendship Doll Exchange between the United States and Japan. This involved a program in which American children sent American blue-eyed dolls (representing the contemporary idea of ​​what an American looked like) to Japanese children, out of goodwill and peace – and to distract from recently enacted US laws against the Japanese. immigration. Japan responded by sending fifty-eight gigantic “return gesture dolls” which toured the United States.

During World War II, for security reasons, Serizawa’s parents sent her to the countryside to live with family friends. A few years after VJ Day, she got a job as a housekeeper and waitress at the Atami Hotel, an establishment in the U.S. Army R. and R., where her U.S. supervisors gave her the English name of Amy. . (Most Japanese who did business with the US military had English names; Kumiko’s fiance Soroku, who also worked at the hotel, was called Frank.) Japanese employees at the establishment were prohibited from doing so. to eat the hotel’s American food while they worked. Kumiko was charming enough to get out of trouble when she was caught sneaking a glass of milk.

In 1952, shortly after Kumiko and Soroku got married, he bought her a traditional doll at Takashimaya, a chic department store in Tokyo. She was fascinated by the doll and decided that she wanted to learn how to make one. She attended classes for two years at two different doll-making schools, practicing incorporating silk kimono fabric into the large sawdust shapes used for the bodies of the dolls. kimekomi dolls, which are usually female dolls with elaborate and simple outfits enjoy heads and hands, and how to insert eyelashes into delicate silk faces of Sakura dolls. (Later, she taught herself to make the faceless three-dimensional folded paper washi ningyo dolls.) At the end of class, she received a kanban—A wooden sign certifying his competence — and under the professional pseudonym Kookyu.

In 1958, the Serizawas, who then had a baby girl, Naomi, decided to immigrate to the United States; they traveled on a ship carrying general goods, a few nuns and several orphans. They started a house in the San Fernando Valley. Most of the families of the Japanese-American friends they quickly made had immigrated to the United States long before the war, and they viewed the Serizawas with some fascination, as the Serizawas had not grown up forcibly detained in an internment camp, as they had done, but, instead, had resisted the war in Japan. Kumiko settled in California, but she had no intention of shedding traditions. Over time, she began to use the master bedroom of her home as a doll-making classroom. She taught groups of up to ten students at a time, guiding them through the four or five month process of finishing a doll.

And, of course, she continued to make her own dolls, which were renowned for their grace and detail; the realism of her doll’s hair was often noticed. She exhibited them at the annual Japanese festival Nisei Week, a cultural celebration in little Tokyo of Los Angeles; the Obon Festival, which honors ancestors, at the Japanese-American Community Center in San Fernando Valley; and, for more than a decade, at the annual Disneyland Festival in Japan. (“Other kids would be so excited to go to Disneyland,” Kumiko’s daughter Naomi said recently. “I had been there so many times with my mom that I was totally overwhelmed.” ) Kumiko was right-handed and never managed to teach left-handed Naomi how to make dolls. But by the time Kumiko’s youngest daughter Patty, another right-hander, was a teenager, she was teaching doll-making alongside her mother.

“I grew up with a Barbie,” Naomi said recently, adding that her mother’s dressmaking friends made loads of outfits for her doll, so she thinks she had one of the best dressed Barbies around. city.

“I got the used Barbies,” Patty said. “I was the younger sister, so it was inevitable.”

What about Kumiko’s dolls? I was wondering if they had received a funeral when she passed away, but it turns out that they were divided between her husband, her daughters and her former students, where they will live again and again.

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