Rare WWII Japanese doll finds home in Kansas

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When Bob Enright first showed Kevin Corbett a small doll a sailor took off a Japanese kamikaze pilot whose plane struck a ship in World War II, he knew it was special.

“Bob said people had given him advice, saying sell the doll,” Corbett said. “He asked me what I thought and I told him not to listen to anyone; it was something special, something culturally significant.” ...

... The next day, he received a reply from Ellen Schattschneider, who teaches anthropology at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass. She has done extensive research on the dolls, which are called mascot dolls—masukotto ningyo in Japanese—and has written a book, “Facing the Dead: Japan and its Dolls in the Mirror of War.”

Schattschneider’s interest in the dolls developed while researching special ceremonies in northeastern Japan, in which the soul of an unmarried person who has died is married, in effect, to a beautiful bride doll.

On her Web site, www.pacificwrecks.com/history/doll/, she wrote that mascot dolls mayhave developed from amulets carried by samurai.

“This appears to be an example of the widespread belief in Japan that dolls have a kind of soul (tamashi) and can carry the identity or essence of a person who has made or owned them,” she said.

By World War II, Japanese women and girls made small dolls for soldiers out of scraps of kimono or other cloth. The dolls were thought to bring soldiers good luck.

The doll in Corbett’s possession was given to a kamikaze or tokkotai soldier who flew planes into U.S. Navy ships.

Schattschneider said the dolls “were given to keep the kamikaze company during their terribly lonely final journeys.”

The dolls are rare because many were destroyed in the suicide missions. There is one other known doll in the United States and a handful in Japan.

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