Visitors to Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park will find strand upon strand of colorful origami paper cranes at the Children’s Peace Memorial. Although very pretty, these ornaments are not merely decoration. They have a very profound meaning behind them and their presence at the site serves a purpose. The story begins with a young girl named Sadako Sasaki.
Sadako was two years old when the Allied forces dropped an atomic bomb on her hometown of Hiroshima in April of 1945. Although her house was about a mile from ground zero, she and her mother were left unscathed. Although exposed to black rain when she and her mother fled the city in the aftermath, Sadako appeared to be a strong and healthy little girl in the years directly after the war.
When she was 9, she started to fall sick, and was eventually diagnosed with lymph gland leukemia- a disease the local community coined, “atomic bomb disease.” Her prognosis was not good and she was given a year to live. While in the hospital, a group of volunteering high school students brought a strand of paper cranes to her room to cheer her up. Her father told her of the legend that if one folds 1,000 paper cranes, they get one wish granted. This gave Sadako an idea, and so she began folding paper cranes in the hopes that her wish to get better would come true.
Since she had little access to origami paper, she folded the cranes with whatever paper she could find: receipts, old wrapping paper, candy wrapper, etc. It is rumored that she reached her goal of 1,000 paper cranes, but didn’t stop, and folded another 300 more. However, her wish did not come true. Sadako lost her battle with the disease on October 25, 1955, at the age of 12.
To keep her memory alive, her friends and family started a letter-writing campaign to secure funds to build a memorial honoring Sadako and all the other hibakusha, or “bomb-affected” children of the war. In 1958, a statue was unveiled of Sadako holding a giant paper crane at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. Because of Sadako, paper cranes have now become a symbol of world peace and of children who have died of the effects of nuclear warfare.
People from all around the world send in paper cranes to the memorial-approximately 10 million annually, to honor Sadako and wish for world peace. The cranes are displayed and then recycled into notebooks for children around the world. These notebooks include information about Sadako, the history of the bombing of Hiroshima, and directions on how to fold your own paper crane.
This year, two of our guests, Chelsea and Timothy Ellis, joined our West Japan tour and brought along 1,000 paper cranes to add to Sadako’s memorial. They join the multitudes of people throughout the world in the wish for world peace and keeping Sadako’s memory alive.