Tojin Okichi Doll

Tojin Okichi Doll
Ca. 1943–1944
Recycled kimono fabric
Gift of Lee Ann Snyder and Roderick Meserve

From 1943-1944 the Meserve family worked for the Pacific Fruit and Produce Company delivering fruit and vegetables to the Tule Lake Incarceration Camp located 43 miles south of Klamath Falls, Oregon. Lee Ann and Roderick Merserve would often accompany their father on his deliveries. They made friends with Japanese American children in camp and could often be found off in a corner with them playing chess and checkers. Their father did many favors for the Nikkei and would save them the best fruits and vegetables. In appreciation for his kindness he was given a Japanese doll made in camp. The Merserve family treasured the doll for seventy years, carrying it with them on many moves throughout the west. In 2018 the doll was generously donated to the Japanese American Museum of Oregon.

The Story of Tojin Okichi
In 1854, the seventeen-year-old Tojin Okichi was the most popular geisha in Shimoda and engaged to a local carpenter, Tsurumatu. Local officials ordered her to leave her fiancé and work for Townsend Harris, the first American Consul to serve in Japan after Commodore Perry opened trade between the two countries. She was Harris’s concubine for five years. Her forced association with foreigners led the locals to rename her “Tojin” or “mistress of a foreigner.” After Harris was relocated to another post her life fell into despair. She committed suicide by drowning in the Inouzawa River in 1890. Her tragic story has been retold through literature, drama, and film many times since.