|The following information has been gleaned with permission from Takayuki Ishii's book "One Thousand Paper Cranes."
ON the morning of August 6, 1945 the skies over Hiroshima, Japan were clear. Three parachutes with flares glittering in the sky began to descend around 8:15am. Twenty six year old Fujiko Sasaki went outside briefly to take notice of the novelty then returned inside to continue breakfast with her mother-in-law Matsu, her four-year old son Masahiro, and her two-year old daughter Sadako. Mr. Sasaki was away serving in the military. The family had no way of knowing an American B-29 bomber the Enola Gay had taken off from Tinian Island on a mission that would change their life, their city, and our world forever.
Within moments from 28,000 feet above Hiroshima the Enola Gay released her payload named Little Boy. The bomb detonated about a half mile above Hiroshima.
Blinding light, ferocious wind, and searing heat preceded a deafening sonic boom. Temperatures at ground level exceeded 7,000 degrees. Within a half-mile of the hypercenter the destruction was utter and complete and the devastation stretched for miles. Nearly everyone caught outdoors died instantly and those who survived endured horrific burns.
Radiation exposure would affect thousands more. Of Hiroshima’s population of 370,000, the bomb would eventually claim about 120,000 civilian lives and as many as 30,000 military personnel.
A mile away from the hypercenter, every home in the Sasaki neighborhood was destroyed. Amazingly everyone in the flattened Sasaki home survived, at least initially. Fujiko ushered her family to a nearby river hoping to use it as a thoroughfare to reach a park set up as an evacuation center. En route the scene was horrific. Destruction and death littered the way, agonizing wails filled the air, and a mysterious black soot rained from the sky.
Remembering a packet of cash in the house, Grandma Matsu hastily returned to recover it. Fujiko attempted to stop her but Grandma assured Fujiko she would rendezvous with them at the park.
At the river the scene was chaotic. The family boarded an overloaded small boat from where they would travel toward the park and witness the horror for two hours before feeling safe enough to once again go ashore. As they headed to the park the ground still seared beneath their feet. The indelible and horrific images, the stench, and the cries kept coming in ceaseless waves.
At the park next to a barren tree, the overwhelmed and exhausted family sat down held captive by a nightmare from which they could not awaken. Eventually rescue teams arrived and offered transportation to a neighboring town near Fujiko’s parents.
After a few days the family reunited with Mr. Sasaki who had served in Hiroshima with the rescue teams but also learned of Grandma Matsu’s fate. She had died on the way back to the home, her body scarred with burns and radiation poisoning.
A few months later, Mrs. Sasaki became badly ill from the after effects of the radiation and soon Mr. Sasaki also would also be stricken by what was known as Atomic Bomb Disease. Both parents overcame the illness and the children seemed to have escaped its gruesome reach.
Over the years the Sasakis had two more children. Sadako was particularly vivacious. Ominously, nine years after the bomb, the popular and athletic young girl experienced a painful swelling under her ears. Sadako had leukemia and was given 3 months to a year to live. She would need to be hospitalized. Her parents were devastated.
With a deep desire to lift Sadako’s spirits, her parents decided to make her a kimono—an honor usually reserved for mature women in Japan. Together with her father, Sadako chose material with a cherry blossom design. Sadako’s aunt volunteered her sewing skill. Given the family’s very modest resources and the expensive blood transfusions and cortisone injections, Sadako knew how much of a loving sacrifice this was for the family bear.
Her class would soon be holding a graduation party. Sadako was invited and cleared by her doctor to attend. She would wear her beautiful kimono and what a sensation she was. Her classmates gave Sadako red notebook signed by them all and a traditional wooden doll known as a kokeshi.
On August 6 of that year Sadako attended the annual Peace Cermony with her family. The ceremony features a thousand floating lanterns. Each lantern carries a lighted candle, symbolizing the eternal spirits of the deceased victims of the atomic bomb.
Back at the hospital Sadako had befriended a young girl with tuberculosis named Kiyo. One day a high school student delivered hundreds of folded paper cranes to the hospital. A nurse gave the origami cranes to the two friends. Sadako recalled the story that upon folding one thousand paper cranes a wish would be granted. With great enthusiasm Sadako and her friend began the effort to do just that. Sadako wished to be healed and to be able to run again. She wished for more than her own healing. She wished to end all such suffering and to bring peace to mankind.
The duo resourcefully gathered whatever paper they could find, making particular use of medicine wrappers. Sadako dutifully charged ahead despite her deteriorating health. After three weeks the ambitious 1,000 crane goal was achieved. Shortly thereafter Kiyo was indeed cured and released. Sadako’s condition, however, had become more grave and so she steadfastly resolved to fold another thousand.
Within a month, however, her health was so poor she could no longer continue. Approximately 1,500 cranes now filled her room. As Sadako’s last moments approached her room would also fill with friends and relatives. On the morning of October 25, 1955, Sadako lost her battle.
At the funeral service Sadako’s body was adorned with the beautiful kimono. The kokeshi doll, given to her by her classmates, was placed in the casket. Her father gently placed hundreds of paper cranes in Sadako’s casket. Sadako’s parents then offered the rest of the cranes to Sadako’s classmates in reverent procession. The cranes now had a new purpose—to offer remembrance of Sadako to her friends and to carry her heavenward wherefrom she could offer Hiroshima and the world her wish of peace.
Collectively her classmates were quite moved and wished to honor Sadako in some way. With the help of their teacher and an energetic volunteer, they hatched a plan to build a memorial statue of Sadako and to the children who suffered and died from the Atomic Bomb. They formed a club called the Wooden Doll’s Association to undertake the task which in turn inspired another group called Hiroshima Children and Students’ Council for the Creation of Peace.
With impressive resourcefulness, the students were astonishingly successful, bringing in an amazing $450,000 from all over Japan. The funds were used to build the beautiful Children’s Peace Monument in Hiroshima. On May 5, 1958, Children’s Day in Japan, the statue crowning the monument was unveiled. Sadako is immortalized lifting a crane skyward.
At the base of the monument is a plaque with the following words engraved in marble:
This is our cry This is our prayer: To create peace in the world.