Biography · Book review · History · Inspiring Reads · Memoir · Uncategorized

Reading Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes with fresh eyes

My second origami crane in gold next to the book Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes.

My cousins are planning a special memorial in May, a way to remember and celebrate my Aunt Elaine, who died Dec. 30 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. My cousins Abby, Rachel, and Aaron will hang a thousand origami paper cranes in keeping with the message of hope and healing within the story, Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes. Rachel posted a request on social media for family and friends to have the opportunity to create origami cranes and either send them to her or bring on the day of the memorial. (Side note: My cousin Aaron has some mad origami skills, so Rachel noted that but made sure to take the pressure off.)

If you haven’t read the story of Sadako Sasaki, as told by Canadian author Eleanor Coerr, please check it out at your public library. Curious about the age-group for this book, I looked the title up and found the interest level is grades 3-6, but reading level is grades 2-5. My hardback copy had beautiful pencil illustrations by Ronald Himler. Reading this book transported me back to an elementary classroom with a nameless, faceless teacher who once read it to the class.

From a young age, Coerr had loved learning about the Japanese culture. She traveled to Japan as a reporter for the Ottawa Journal in 1949 when many writers didn’t wish to travel there and witness the devastating effects of World War II. Coerr learned Japanese while she lived with a family on a farm near Yonago for a year.

Visiting Hiroshima then, she saw the devastating aftermath of the atom bomb. But when she revisited Hiroshima in 1963, Coerr went to the the Peace Memorial Park. She saw the statue of Sadako and learned about this brave girl’s determination to fold a thousand origami cranes during her fight with leukemia. Sadako wanted to find healing and return to her old life. Born Jan. 7, 1943, she would have been an 18-month-old baby at the time the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 5, 1945. I found this account from Wikipedia:

Sadako Sasaki was at home, about 1.6 kilometers (1 mi) away from ground zero, when the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. She was blown out of the window and her mother ran out to find her, suspecting she may be dead, but instead finding her two-year-old daughter alive with no apparent injuries. While they were fleeing, Sasaki and her mother were caught in black rain. Her grandmother rushed back to the house and was never seen again; later, she was presumed to be dead.

Taken with Sadako’s story, Coerr went in search of the autobiography, Kokeshi, to read more about her, but couldn’t find a copy. The search ended the day she visited with a missionary in Hiroshima. The missionary told Coerr she should write a biography about Sadako and when she learned Coerr couldn’t find the autobiography, she took her up to the attic to find her copy.

Coerr had Kokeshi translated and set about writing Sadako’s story for generations of children. She wrote of Sadako’s love of running and competing on her relay team, as well as her anticipation of going to junior high. She told of how the people remembered those they lost on Aug. 5 during “Peace Day” and how they feared the “atomic bomb disease” that had started to show itself years later.

When Sadako became ill and went into the Red Cross Hospital for care on Feb. 21, 1955. Her first visitor was her best friend Chizuko Hamamoto who took gold paper and made the first crane for her.

Illustration by Ronald Himler of Masahiro Sasaki hanging up the origami cranes for Sadako on page 38 of Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes.

“Chizuko was pleased with herself. I’ve figured out a way for you to get well,” she said proudly. “Watch!” She cut a piece of gold paper into a large square. In a short time, she had folded it over and over into a beautiful crane.

Sadako was puzzled. “But how can that paper bird made me well?

“Don’t you remember that old story about the crane?” Chizuko asked. It’s supposed to live for a thousand years. If a sick person folds one thousand paper cranes, the gods will grant her wish and make her healthy again.” She handed the crane to Sadako. “Here’s your first one.”

Sadako’s brother Masahiro would later string up the cranes his sister created as she started to fold origami cranes. Death surrounded her, but she found peace and solace in the cranes as she folded. Leukemia took over her body, but peace filled up her soul. Sadako’s legacy lives on as this beautiful story as it’s retold to new audiences.

When I reread the story, I gained a new insights I missed as a child. My cousin rightly deemed Sadako’s story a “journey for health and peace.” As I started work on each origami crane (using this tutorial), I needed complete concentration. I felt my body relax as I focused on folding. When I finally saw the head and tail of the crane show itself in the design, I knew victory would be near, then on to the next one! Making origami paper cranes calmed my mind and I let go of thoughts of pain or anxiety as I created them. I can imagine the same feeling of accomplishment and peace filling Sadako as she made each crane even as her body failed her. Her soul felt peace.


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