11 Nov United States-Japan Girl Scout Friendship Statue hosts reunion over 50 years in the making
Over 50 years ago, an eleven-year-old American Girl Scout named Libby Watson and a seventeen-year-old Japanese Girl Scout named Hiroko Tanaka gave the customary Scouting salute and shook hands. The moment was captured forever in The United States-Japan Girl Scout Friendship Statue, which was dedicated on March 18th 1962 to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Girl Scouting in the United States, and as a welcome back to the Girl Scouts of Japan from the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts.
Resting in Yamashita Park in Yokohama, the statue has become a beloved, much-visited tourist attraction. On November 7th of this year, it will reunite the two Girl Scouts it depicts, 52 years after they made their mutual salute.
Watson returned home to the United States in 1965 and went on to pursue a successful career in public service, reaching important city management roles in Fort Worth, Austin, and San Diego. Watson later admitted that the creation of the statue was “very meaningful.” However it was a subject she rarely brought up, while in Japan people slowly forgot about the girls who posed for the statue. Hiroko stayed in Yokohama and eventually became an artist.
Watson told her story to Sandy Kautz, who went on to write an article for the 1992 magazine, Girl Scouts Leaders. In 2006, a former Yokohama Girl Scout, who fondly remembered the statue from her childhood, found an old copy. Kajima-Best shared the story at an exchange program between American and Japanese Girl Scouts in Yokohama, prompting a search for Libby and Hiroko, and eventually a celebration dubbed the Girl Scout Handshake Project. The Girl Scout Handshake Project raised funds in Japan and the United States to bring the girls back together for a rededication of the famous statue.
Here at Big Statues, we’re always happy to hear stories of how these wonderful monuments form enduring memories in people’s minds and help to forge ties between nations. As Watson reflected: “It’s not me. It’s not Hiroko. It symbolizes the friendship between Girl Scouts of Japan and Girl Scouts of the United States; it symbolizes something very special.”
We hope that our own life size statues will leave a similar mark on the world.