A thousand paper cranes

When visiting a temple in Japan, you will often see large strings of colored paper shapes, hung up in various places.

a thousand paper cranes in osu kannon temple in nagoya
In Osu Kannon Temple in Nagoya
a thousand paper cranes in Atsuta jingu in Nagoya
In Atsuta Jingu Shrine in Nagoya

Closer inspection reveals that these paper shapes are actually cranes. One thousand of them to be exact. The origami cranes are often arranged by color, fitted one close on top of the other and held together by strings. I love the visual effect of all those colorful strings of folded paper.

one thousand origami cranes
Strings of origami cranes in close-up
one thousand origami cranes
Zooming in even further

The custom of folding a thousand origami cranes (senbazuru 千羽鶴) originates from an old Japanese legend. It is said that the person who folds a thousand paper cranes will be granted a wish. These days it is mostly used as a way to pray for good health and as a symbol of hope.

The origami cranes became famous through the story of Sadako Sasaki. She was a 12-year-old girl who developed leukemia due to exposure to the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. During her illness, she began the task of folding a thousand origami cranes. Sadly, she died before she could finish the task. Her classmates finished the cranes after her death, as a tribute to their classmate.

I like both the visual aspect of the cranes and the meaning behind the custom. Maybe I should try folding one thousand paper cranes myself. What do you think?

14 thoughts on “A thousand paper cranes

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  1. My fave thing to fold are Lucky Stars. It has a soothing quality and is easy to fold. I was making cranes for a long time as my ‘keep my hands busy while I watch movies’ activity…. but I like that the stars are much smaller and I can fill jars and the like with them.

    1. Cool! My go to origami is usually a lotus flower. I don’t have much experience with cranes, but surely I will be an expert by the time my project is done.

  2. My mother, sister and I once did a thousand cranes for a Hiroshima Day event. I remember how much time and effort it took and admire anyone who undertakes to do this on their own.

    1. Maybe I could solicit some occasional help from family and friends. Although I read somewhere that if you want to make a wish at the end, the person who will make the wish has to make all thousand of them. Do you know what the rules are?

      1. I don’t know the rules, but I do know that they are often done by groups for a specific cause or goal.

  3. The photos are truly magnificent and display the vivid colors. I should try making the thousand cranes, since my Mom at 88 is fighting breast cancer. Thanks for the information and the inspiration.

  4. I first became aware of the custom of folding a thousand origami cranes by visiting the Children’s Peace Monument in Hiroshima and the story of Sadako Sasaki. The crane is a symbol of longevity and happiness and legend says that the gods will grant a wish to anyone who folds a thousand paper cranes.

  5. I’ve always like the story of Sadako – I remember reading the story book when I was young.

    I like the paper cranes in the 2nd picture form the top! It’s a nice colour combo~

  6. After the the tohoku earthquake I volunteered to help organise Japan Matsuri in London, and as decorations we had all these paper cranes everywhere for all the people who had lost their lives and homes. I didn’t make a thousand myself, but I did make a couple hundred! I was constantly folding, anywhere, anytime, on the train, on break etc. I also really like this custom 🙂

    1. It’s great to be able to contribute something at such a time of need! Drawing hope from simple things like a string of folded cranes, is very reminiscent of Japanese culture to me. Also the motivation for everyone to contribute in whichever way they can, reminds me of Japan.

      There is another blogger I follow, whose mother knits over a 100 caps each year for the Tohoku victims. Amazing! You can see it here: http://ayakomathies.wordpress.com/2011/11/10/the-caps-are-on-their-way/ and here: http://ayakomathies.wordpress.com/2012/12/26/knit-caps-for-winter-2012/

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