A Pilgrimage to Hiroshima With 1,000 Paper Cranes
My husband and I were married in a Japanese Garden in South Florida in 2012. Long before the wedding, we committed to the daunting task of folding 1,000 origami paper cranes that would be strung and displayed on an arch behind us during the ceremony. After the wedding the cranes would come with us on our honeymoon to Japan where we would display them at the Children’s Peace Monument in Hiroshima.
The Children’s Peace Monument is rooted in the history of Sadako Sasaki. It is a tragic tale that begins with the bombing of Hiroshima in 1945. Exposed to the radiation of the attack as a young girl, Sadako developed leukemia ten years later and began to fold 1,000 origami paper cranes. The legend goes that anyone who folds 1,000 paper cranes, senbanzuru in Japanese, will be granted a wish. After her untimely death, her classmates petitioned for the construction of a monument dedicated to all the children who lost their lives as a result of the atomic bomb.
Located in the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, the Children’s Peace Monument was built in 1958 and features a nine-meter structure, topped with a bronze statue of a girl holding up a golden crane, “entrusted with the dreams for a peaceful future”. Inside the monument there is also a bell with a small origami crane on the clapper. There is a carved stone under the monument that reads “This is our cry. This is our prayer. For building peace in this world.” Most notably for the tale of our paper cranes, there are several enclosures surrounding the monument where people can display the paper cranes they have folded in the name of continued peace.
As a wedding tradition, a couple that folds 1,000 cranes would be granted the wish of a long and happy marriage. Additionally, completing the tedious task of actually folding 1,000 cranes is also thought to be a testament to a couples’ ability to work cooperatively and persevere through challenging times. Much like flowers, there is symbolism to the color of the paper used in folding the cranes: Red; Endless Love, White; Purity of Heart, Green; Long Health, Yellow; Overflowing Creativity, Blue; Unwavering Loyalty, Purple; Deepened Spirituality, and Gold; the color of wealth. For our cranes, we used mostly white paper with blue, green, and gold accents.
What was it like folding one thousand origami cranes? Not nearly as challenging as you might think! We began the task of folding our cranes in May about four months before the wedding. With only one month to go we still had over 300 to fold, but we redoubled our efforts and managed to finish all 1,000 by the beginning of September. But once the folding was completed, that only meant we still had to string them and deliver them to our florist to be attached to the arch and deliver it to the wedding site. Happily, all 1,000 cranes were folded and strung with ten days to spare! The end result was beautiful, and a very rewarding surprise on the morning of our wedding to see the arch unveiled before the ceremony.
I found folding the 1,000 cranes to be a very therapeutic experience. After a while, the sequence of folding is ingrained in you, and becomes so repetitive that you only have to rely on muscle memory. This occupies your hands and distracts your mind, it’s a form of meditation and can be a very welcome moment of calm amid the other stresses of wedding planning. To this day my husband and I both find ourselves mindlessly folding paper cranes out of bits of paper we may have (receipts, wrappers, newspaper) and leaving them in random places to hopefully spark a little joy.
After the wedding we restrung the cranes more compactly and packaged them for their long trip to Hiroshima. It was very important to us to bring the cranes to display at the monument, even if it meant dedicating one of our precious pieces of allotted airplane luggage to the task. So we carefully coiled the strings of cranes into a tote bag and carried it on planes, trains, and streetcars all the way to our hotel in Hiroshima. On a chilly morning the day after our arrival in Hiroshima, a pair of jet lagged newlyweds delivered 1,000 paper cranes to the Children’s Peace Monument, rang the bell, and suspended our cranes in one of the enclosures; taking home with us a profound sense of accomplishment, unity, and peace.
Six years after our honeymoon pilgrimage to Hiroshima, we are very happily married, live in Japan, and continue to fold paper cranes. We have a beautiful daughter who sleeps under a paper crane mobile; made in hopes that they will also bring her dreams of a peaceful future.