Wednesday February 13, 2013
Finding peace in a foiled piece of paper
SO AUNTY, SO WHAT?
By JUNE H.L. WONG
What started off as a typical Chinese New Year visit turned out to be an opportunity to learn a small but meaningful skill.
On Sunday, I finally learnt to do something I had wanted to for some time. I learnt how to fold a paper crane.
That may be Origami 101 for enthusiasts of this wonderful Japanese art of paper folding but for me, who is usually all thumbs (which is why I failed my sewing projects in primary school), it was a feat I am immensely proud of.
My interest in the paper crane started years ago when I came across the true story about a young Japanese girl who lived through the atom bomb devastation of her city.
Sadako Sasaki was two years old when Hiroshima was bombed on Aug 6, 1945.
Nine years later, the lively, athletic girl was diagnosed with leukaemia, the so-called “atom bomb disease”.
When her best friend Chizuko visited her in hospital, she brought origami paper and told Sadako about the Japanese ritual called senbazuru. Legend has it that folding 1,000 paper cranes would please the gods and they would grant the folder a wish. Wanting to get well, Sadako decided to fold 1,000 cranes. Paper was scarce at that time, so during the 14 months she spent in hospital, she used whatever paper she could find: medicine bottle labels, leftover wrapping paper and candy wrappers.
She managed to fold 644 before she died. Her friends and classmates went to fold the rest and raise money to build a statue in memory of her and all the child victims of the atom bomb. The result is the Children’s Peace Monument in Hiroshima, a 9m-high structure topped by a bronze status of Sadako holding a paper crane. The plaque at the base reads: “This is our cry. This is our prayer. For building peace in this world.”
I was reminded of Sadako and her cranes when I visited the Manchester Museum last November and came across a display called Peace. A thousand white paper cranes hang from the ceiling. It is stark in its simplicity, yet totally compelling and moving. On the wall is an inscription explaining how cranes feature in the legends of many cultures.
In China and Japan, for example, they symbolise long life and good luck. It also briefly recounts Sadako’s story and ends with: “Sadako said of the cranes, ‘I will write peace on your wings and you will fly all over the world.’ Today, paper cranes are the international symbol of peace.” In the years since Sadako’s amazing story, the 1,000 paper crane story has been used in the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons as well as for efforts to raise funds and awareness for cancer and victims of natural disasters like the 2011 Fukushima tsunami.
I have long been struck by the power of this folded piece of paper. Why does something so simple have the force to move people into action? I think it’s because it is a symbol with a powerful story involving an innocent child imbued with emotions – of hope, love, loss and courage – that people respond to. And it gives them something that is doable: fold a paper crane. And so when I visited my eldest sister-in-law, who is now de facto head of the family after my mother-in-law’s demise, on the first day of Chinese New Year, and saw several paper cranes hung on bamboo in the house, I asked to be taught how to fold them.
My sister-in-law’s granddaughter, E-da, patiently took me through the process.
Through the course of the afternoon, I folded about a dozen cranes in a variety of colours.
Amid the chatter and laughter of the festive occasion, as the mahjong tiles clicked and clacked in one corner and Chinese New Year songs blared from the TV, I found peace and contentment in making my paper cranes.
Even as I write this, I am taking little breaks to fold my cranes. I am using smaller squares of paper because I want to experiment making tiny cranes that can fill a glass jar. Sadako’s cranes were reportedly the size of a fingernail. I have seen such glass containers filled with cranes made by people who perhaps had wishes they wanted granted or gave them to friends or loved ones who needed encouragement and hope.
It is such a lovely gesture and knowing the message behind it makes it all the more meaningful. Whether my cranes are for myself or for someone else, I haven’t decided yet. Besides, what E-da taught me is just one version of folding a crane. I see other variations online and I want to learn to fold those too.
I didn’t set out to have a project or a resolution this Chinese New Year but on the first day, I did. Strange how something amazing can just slither in when you least expect it.
> There are many versions of Sadako’s story and one of the most well-known is the ‘Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes’ by Eleanor Coerr for children aged eight to 12. Feedback is welcome: firstname.lastname@example.org