U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy has traced the woman who sent her father, President John F. Kennedy, a set of elaborate “hina” dolls in 1962.
Kennedy appealed for help in finding the sender of the dolls, which she played with as a child and which are on display at the ambassadorial residence in Tokyo in the run-up to the Girls’ Day festival on March 3.
The dolls were sent by former grocer Tsuyako Matsumoto, now 92 and living in a nursing home in Kitami, Hokkaido Prefecture.
Matsumoto said she was delighted to hear that Kennedy wanted to thank her.
“My mind went blank. I’m simply happy,” she said.
Kennedy began the search knowing some details about the sender, but that wasn’t enough given the amount of time that had passed.
In January, the U.S. Consulate General in Sapporo City attempted a search based on records of the period but failed to locate Matsumoto. Then, during a visit to Sapporo on Feb. 4, Kennedy asked the media for help, and the trail quickly led to Matsumoto.
The U.S. Embassy was unavailable for comment on Wednesday, but said earlier it hoped to get in touch with Matsumoto.
In 1962, Matsumoto was running a shop selling groceries and sundry goods in Kitami.
One day, she wrote to President Kennedy and in return received a letter from a presidential secretary thanking her for writing.
“I never thought I would get a reply,” Matsumoto said.
The letter was in English, but she asked a doctor she knew at a hospital to translate it.
Moved by the letter, she went to a department store in the city and spent money she had earned from knitting and other odd jobs on a full set of 15 hina dolls, including a couple representing an Emperor and Empress.
“I thought it would be a surprise because it was pricey and rare,” she said of the gift. These dolls typically grace the homes of girls celebrating Girls’ Day.
Staff at the store helped her to package the dolls and she dispatched the set directly to the White House.
Hearing that Ambassador Kennedy had played with the dolls as a child and that they are now on display at her residence, Matsumoto said: “I’m really grateful.” Her voice was full of emotion.
She said she still has the letters she received from the United States. Among them is a coin bearing President Kennedy’s face, which was enclosed in one of the letters.
Matsumoto said she would love to meet Ambassador Kennedy one day. Asked by a reporter what she would say, she replied: “That’s a secret.”