How Paper Cranes Become a Symbol of Healing in Japan


Every day school children visit the monument for the child victims of Hiroshima adorned with a statue of Sadako Sasaki holding up an origami crane. The museum receives millions of paper cranes from around the world. Photograph By Ari Beser.

Hiroshima, JAPAN—Origami, the Japanese art of folding paper, often conjures images of paper cranes, or orizuru in Japanese. I began to wonder, where does this fabled art form originate, and why are paper cranes regarded as a symbol of peace?

After some digging, I discovered that paper folding was reserved for ceremonies around the 6th century, since the paper came from China and was expensive for commoners. Folded paper butterfly figures were first used in Japan to decorate sake cups at weddings, and paper was folded in Shinto shrines for good luck. Decorative figures of paper cranes began showing up on ceremonial kimonos as far back as the 16th century.

The use of paper became widespread worldwide by the 20th century. Origami as we know it was popularized and taught in Japanese schools in art class, and has since evolved as a childhood pastime.

In Japanese lore, the crane—a type of large, migratory bird—was thought to live for 1,000 years, and the animals are held in the highest regard in Japan.

The 1797 book Sen Bazuru Orikake, which translates to “how to fold 1,000 paper cranes,” contains instructions for how to make these special objects.

But it doesn’t talk about the legends. In every resource I found, the story of Sadako Sasaki was the reason why it became popular to fold them and make a wish.

Sadako pictured with her father on July 18, 1955, shortly before she died of leukemia, a result of exposure to the atomic bomb’s ionizing radiation on August 6, 1945. Photograph courtesy of Yuji Sasaki.

Sadako survived the Hiroshima bomb —> Read More