On the clear, sunny morning of August 6, 1945, a United States airplane, the Enola Gay, suddenly appeared in the sky over Japan and dropped a bomb on the city of Hiroshima.
Children on their way to school melted into the sidewalks. People walking down the street turned into shadows and ash. Whole city blocks vanished.
WHAT SADAKO DIDN’T REMEMBER
Two-year-old Sadako Sasaki was eating breakfast with her mother, brother, and grandmother when the bomb fell one mile away.
Throughout the city, those who turned their heads and looked up never saw another thing. Ten seconds later, a rush of air rolled across the demolished city, then reversed course and sucked everything in toward the center.
Sadako was too little to remember being carried to the river, or how her grandmother went back to the house to get something and was never seen again.
She would not remember the wave of heat that roared down the street where houses, trees, gardens, and stores burst into flame or the charred bodies of the dead, the screams of the living.
She would not remember the mushroom cloud that rose into the sky like a giant demon, carrying the ashes of eighty thousand people, their animal-companions, beds, books.
There wasn’t a scratch on her, but Sadako’s blood and bones had a secret: they held the memory of deadly radiation.
THE A-BOMB DISEASE
Ten years later, red canna lilies grew everywhere in Hiroshima, even in the rubble, giving everyone hope for new life.
By then, Sadako was an athletic sixth grader. On Fall Sports Day, 1954, her class went on a field trip to Mount Misen. Sadako and a few other girls raced ahead, past the Eternal Fire that had burned for over a thousand years. Later, everyone remembered Sadako, still full of energy after reaching the top, leaping around like the Rabbit in the Moon.
But just a few weeks later, something was wrong. Sadako was listless. Lumps bubbled under her chin.
In January, 1955, purple spots appeared on Sadako’s legs. Her parents took her to the Red Cross Hospital and learned that Sadako had leukemia, known then as the” A-bomb disease.”
Her classmates visited her in the hospital and presented Sadako with a Kokeshi doll made of wood, its big round head painted with a pretty face.
SADAKO’S ORIGAMI CRANES
One day, Sadako was given a square piece of golden paper and taught to fold it into a crane. She was reminded that, according to an ancient Japanese legend, the crane is the bird of happiness and youth. It is said, that anyone who folds 1,000 paper cranes would be granted a wish.
After that, Sadako folded paper cranes in her hospital room every day when she wasn’t busy doing her homework from school or sleeping from her illness. Her school friends collected little squares of colored paper for her. Her father found bits of paper in his barber shop and her mother, sister, and brothers scoured the neighborhood, finding pretty papers for Sadako’s cranes.
Sadako’s medicine came wrapped in red paper squares. She saved these and turned them into magic cranes. Other patients in the hospital heard about Sadako’s cranes and came by the room to see the girl and her magic birds.
Origami became meditation. Folding the paper became a prayer not only for her own health, but for world peace, a recognition that peace is in our hands.
Accounts vary, but some say that, after Sadako’s death at age 12 on October 25, 1955, her classmates folded 346 cranes to complete the 1,000 for their friend. Sadako’s parents buried their daughter, surrounded by colorful paper cranes and the Kokeshi doll her friends had given her months earlier.
CHILDREN LEAD THE WAY
Something had happened to Sadako’s classmates as they folded the cranes. They wanted to do more.
They decided that what the world needed was a statue, a monument to all the children killed by the atomic bomb. Sadako’s friends met in downtown Hiroshima to collect money for a statue. The idea for the statue spread. Children in over three thousand schools in Japan started raising money. Then, children in other countries began to collect money too.
The children’s monument in Hiroshima’s Peace Park was unveiled on May 5, 1958, Children’s Day in Japan. On the top of a huge, hollowed-out atom bomb was the figure of a girl like Sadako, her arms stretched to the sky. In her hands was a golden crane. The children’s message was, “THIS IS OUR CRY, THIS IS OUR PRAYER, PEACE IN THE WORLD.”
News of the statue spread, and children everywhere began folding paper cranes and sending them to the Children’s Peace Monument — children in the United States, Russia, Brazil, India, Iran, Spain, Sweden, France; children in Poland, South Africa, Israel, Thailand, Australia. Still, every year, children send thousands of paper cranes to be placed in glass cases near the monument — each crane is a prayer for peace.
Sadako has become a symbol of children’s desire for peace. Hundreds of books have been written about her. Movies and YouTube cartoons tell her story. There are Sadako statues and peace gardens. Plays have been written about Sadako. Music has been composed in her memory. Countless artists have painted pictures showing Sadako and her thousand paper cranes.
TO GO DEEPER
“Hiroshima Remembers Atomic Bomb: ‘Abolish the Evil of Nuclear Weapons’” by Justin McCurry, The Guardian, August 5, 2015
“How To Make a Crane / Origami” (7 mins)
“Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes (5 mins)