I want to fly away…
Many of my Japanese friends and also foreign friends who have lived in Japan have never heard this story, so today I will share the story of Sadako. It’s not a happy story, but one that needs to be told.
Yesterday I wrote about Hiroshima and the atomic bombing on August 6th 1945 at 08:15. I will always remember the date and time, because when I worked in the Town Hall in Japan, every year at that precise moment, the mayor would make an announcement and every single person would stand up from their desk. There would be a moment of silence and my colleagues then bowed in the direction of Hiroshima.
When I visited Hiroshima aged 18, I learnt that people would bring 1000 folded cranes to this city with them and leave them at the Peace Park. After the tsunami, I was filming with Japanese TV in London, as university students folded paper cranes for Japan. These cranes are a symbol of Japan, but few people realise why they are so important to Japanese people.
When the atomic bomb exploded in Hiroshima, Miss Sadako Sasaki was just two years old. The blast happened a mile away from her home, but the explosion was so strong it threw her little body out of the window. She survived. However, in 1954 she started developing signs of sickness. She had swellings on her neck and behind her ears and months later purple spots developed on her legs. At this time, a large increase in leukemia in Hiroshima was observed due to the radiation that people had been exposed to from the atomic bomb. Sadako was also diagnosed with the disease and given less than a year to live.
There is an old Japanese tale that promises a wish to anyone who folds 1000 paper cranes. One day, Sadako’s friend visited her in the hospital and folded a paper crane for her. This spurred Sadako on to fold paper cranes from any paper that she could find, including wrapping paper from other inpatients’ presents and random pieces of medicine wrappings. She folded over 1000 cranes, but never got better. She passed away at the age of 12 on 25th October 1955.
When you walk around the Hiroshima Peace Park, you see exhibitions of crane art everywhere. Almost every school child will visit the Hiroshima Peace Museum with their class and they will be encouraged to bring 1000 folded cranes. Most of the time, it’s the mother’s who frantically end up folding these birds the day before the child goes on their trip, but it does mean that most people in Japan can fold a paper crane from memory.
Have you been to Hiroshima? Did you fold 1000 cranes?