The Japanese Doll Making and Crafts School was started by Akiko Keene in order for her to teach a wide range of doll-making and repair skills that she has learned. She has spent a great deal of time developing her own skills and knowledge and. pursues every opportunity to learn herself.
In 1966, she graduated from the Tokyo Ningyo Doll School with a teaching certificate. She attended the Kyoto Kimono School and received the Third Certificate in 1977. The next year, 1978, she received a Koshi (Associate Professor) degree for kimekomi doll making from the Hyakakai (Japan Doll Teacher's Association). Upon receiving this Koshi, she was able to award certificates to her students. By 1982, she advanced to a Kyoju (Professor) degree for kimekomi doll making from the Hyakakai. In 1989 she was awarded fourth place in the prestigious Japan National Doll Masters Competition. From this, she was awarded title of Gago (Master Professor), the highest degree given for kimekomi doll making from the Hyakakai.
Gago Master Keene teaches three regular classes in kimekomi doll making. The classes are held in her workshop in Maryland on Monday mornings, Monday evenings, and Saturday mornings. She also conducts workshops and gives demonstrations as needed on special dolls, new techniques, new equipment, and other subjects that result from her visits to Japan and her consultations with doll teachers in Japan. In addition to kimekomi dolls, she also teaches students how to make oyama dolls, warabe (child) dolls, hagoita dolls, oshie, washi paper crafts, and jewelry.
She does have dolls available for sale by special request. Some of her students also make dolls to sell. Keene-sensei examines each doll to ensure that the doll meets the standards of the school. She has a wide variety of supplies available for sale, including kimekomi doll kits, accessories (fans, umbrellas, screens, and so on), replacement arms and legs, hair, tools, glue, etc.
The Japanese Doll Making and Crafts School is the only distributor east of the Rocky Mountains in North America for materials and supplies of the Nomura School, Japan Doll Art School, Tanaka Washi Company, and Marugin Doll Materials Shop. Also available are doll kits, materials, and supplies from the Tokyo Kimekomi Ningyo.
There are three active branches of the Japanese Doll Making and Crafts School. The teachers are Mrs. Mio Lawrence of Upper Marlboro, Maryland; Mrs. Lily Okura of Bethesda, Maryland; and Mrs. Tokuko Shimizu of Baltimore, Maryland.
Akiko gives talks and does displays for various U. S. governmental departments and agencies, institutions, organizations, elementary schools, and community centers. Every year her doll school participates in the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C. The School displays dolls and gives workshops. It is also an opportunity for some of the students to sell their dolls.
In addition, for the past several years Akiko and her students have participated in the Asian and Pacific American Heritage Month activities for the Smithsonian Institution, U.S. Government's departments and agencies, and at several community centers in Prince George's County, Maryland. Gago Master Keene and several of her students spoke at the J.A.D.E. convention in Washington, D.C., in 1999 on kimekomi dolls.