Paper Cranes

I wanted to go to Hiroshima for a couple reasons. Part of it was curiosity, how does a city rebuild after a tragedy of epic proportions? And part of it was because I feel that it is important, as an American, to bear witness to the actions of my country.

As you most likely already know, the first atomic bomb ever used against humanity was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. This, along with the bombing of Nagasaki, ended World War Two , but took an enormous human toll. In the first few months around 140,000 people in Hiroshima died from the actual explosion or from radiation poisoning. Most of them were civilians. Thousands more have died in the years since then from radiation related side effects, bringing the total number of victims to around 270,000 (not counting another 100,000 in Nagasaki). An explosion of less than a second killed 270,000 people. Take a minute and just think about how big a number that is.

Hiroshima Today

Hiroshima managed to rebuild itself from total desolation into a clean and modern city with very few traces of the disaster 65 years ago. There are shopping malls, a tram system, even a major league baseball team. The one enduring reminder is the Hiroshima Peace Park which is located at the explosions ground zero. The wreckage of a single mangled building that survived the explosion, now known at the Atomic Bomb Dome, is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s surrounded by a lovely park which houses a museum as well as dozens of memorials.

My visit to the Peace Park, on a rainy Sunday afternoon, was an emotional punch in the gut. I knew that it wasn’t exactly going to be fun, but I really didn’t expect to be affected so much. The starkness of the A-bomb Dome took my breath away, and the museum showcased horror after horror that thoroughly convinced me that nuclear weapons ought to be abolished from this earth. The first hand accounts, drawings and artifacts made the disaster real to me in a way that I’ve seen very few museums accomplish. What happened in Hiroshima was hell on earth, a hell that the survivors of the bombing still cope with to this day.

Even so, my American friends will be glad to hear that the Japanese are not holding a grudge against us for what happened. Amazingly, all the literature I was given at the park fairly portrayed both countries roles in the events that lead up to the bomb drop. There were no accusatory looks or implications. The focus now is not on resentment but on ensuring that a tragedy like this never happens again, anywhere on earth.

Japan does not possess nuclear weapons. Every time any country has tested a nuclear weapon since 1968, the mayor of Hiroshima has written a letter imploring the government to cease weapon development and work towards disarmament. The walls of the museum showcase dozens of these letters, spanning decades.

When the bomb went off it was rumored that nothing would grow again in Hiroshima for 75 years. This is definitely not the case: even in October the rose garden was defiantly colorful. Even prettier than the flowers are the paper cranes which bloomed all over the park. Inspired by a Japanese girl who died at 12 of leukemia related to the explosion, children from all over the world fold paper cranes to take to Hiroshima. Each crane represents a wish for peace, and there were thousands adorning the memorials. Most are on the Children’s Peace Monument, where the inscription reads:

“This is our cry. This is our prayer. Peace on Earth.”

In the end that was what brought me to tears. The commitment to turn this immense tragedy into something positive. That this beautiful park and the testaments of those who witnessed this atrocity could inspire those who visit to work passionately to end the threat of nuclear war forever.

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36 Responses to Paper Cranes

  1. Amy October 11, 2010 at 8:13 AM #

    I recently traveled to Hiroshima. It was the paper cranes that got me, as well. I remember reading a book about the little girl who folded the cranes from her hospital bed when I was a child. Being in Hiroshima made the problems from the bomb really hit home.

    • Steph October 14, 2010 at 2:51 AM #

      Yeah, I never read this book but after hearing the real story behind it I’d like to.

  2. Mike October 11, 2010 at 9:49 AM #

    Thanks for this article. Sadly, I didn’t know much about Hiroshima, past or present. Very interesting and moving read.

    • Steph October 14, 2010 at 2:52 AM #

      I really did not know a whole lot either outside of history class. visting was very enlightening

  3. Michael Tyson October 11, 2010 at 12:16 PM #

    This post inspired me to go read up on FDR and President Truman. I’m watching the TV series, The West Wing for the third time at the moment and as I was reading this post I was wondering who gave that order – who was the president at the time, was he a Republican or a Democrat, what was he like? So, I’ve just spent the last couple of hours reading up on these two American presidents, which lead me from the Great Depression, through WWII, to the recognition of Israel, the creation of the UN, the Korean and Vietnam wars, the arms race, Cold War and the Chinese communist revolution.

    I can honestly say, no single blog post has been as educational.

    • Steph October 14, 2010 at 2:56 AM #

      Oh well I’m so happy to have been the root cause of all that research! 20the century history is some crazy stuff.

  4. Emily S. October 11, 2010 at 2:47 PM #

    Wow… what an emotional experience. What really got me were the letters to countries testing nuclear bombs, asking them to stop. No one can possibly understand the pain and devastation better than Japan… perhaps more people should listen.

    • Steph October 14, 2010 at 2:56 AM #

      Yeah I really liked those letters. That and the fact that Japan does not have a nuclear program really illustrated how dedicated they are to stopping this.

  5. Andi October 11, 2010 at 4:39 PM #

    I got goosebumps looking at those gorgeous and very symbolic paper cranes. Beautiful post!

    • Steph October 14, 2010 at 2:57 AM #

      thank you! They were really beautiful pieces of paper

  6. Jaime October 11, 2010 at 8:43 PM #

    Wow that must have been very emotional. I am a very very sensitive man and I would have probably been in tears as well.

    I have one question: So how do the cranes get there? Do people from all over the world mail them there or are the made by Japanese girls there. (Maybe I didnt understand the post right)

    • Steph October 14, 2010 at 3:00 AM #

      People bring them from all over the world- it looks like mostly school groups but anybody can add some.

  7. ehalvey October 11, 2010 at 11:01 PM #

    Absolutely beautifully written.

    • Steph October 14, 2010 at 3:00 AM #

      thank you! I found the place really inspiring.

  8. Jenny October 12, 2010 at 2:10 AM #

    Wow. Those paper cranes are insanely beautiful and inspiring.

    I agree that we should check out and explore the actions of our country to really bring home the concept. It would have been an emotional journey for me as well… I’m such a baby.

    • Steph October 14, 2010 at 3:06 AM #

      I think that’s one of the most helpful thnigs about travel- the ability to put your country in a larger context.

  9. Greg Knudsen October 12, 2010 at 6:16 AM #

    My wife, daughter, and I were in Hiroshima on the anniversary of the bombing in 2006. Vans filled with paper cranes were being brought to the Children’s Peace Monument in memory of Sadako and all who died there. Students handed out individual paper cranes as a peace souvenir that we fondly display. You can see some of my pics from Hiroshima on YouTube by searching 50fotos japan.

    • Steph October 14, 2010 at 3:13 AM #

      That must have been so neat to witness. Thank you for sharing.

  10. adam October 12, 2010 at 1:07 PM #

    Thank you for writing about this. I’ve always been interested to see what Hiroshima looks like today. I’d highly recommend John Hersey’s book “Hiroshima” if you haven’t read it.

    • Steph October 14, 2010 at 3:13 AM #

      I haven’t read it! Will have to see if I can get my hands on it.

  11. Amanda October 12, 2010 at 1:09 PM #

    What a beautiful, moving post, Steph. And I’m sure the experience itself was even more so. I’m sure I would have been in tears, too. It’s amazing what we, as humans, have done to other humans in the past; the kind of atrocities that happen all over the world. It really makes you stop and think.

    It’s nice to hear that they aren’t holding a grudge, though, but instead are doing what they can to promote peace and disarmament. I think that’s the best step Japan could have taken.

    Thanks for such a great post!

    • Steph October 14, 2010 at 3:14 AM #

      Yeah, it’s really uplifting to know that maybe something good will come out of this horrible event, insted of it just perpetuating more violence.

  12. Andrew Murray @AdvBimbling October 12, 2010 at 2:20 PM #

    A very moving post, it’s amazing what we can learn from our travels, and those of others 🙂

    • Steph October 14, 2010 at 3:16 AM #

      Thank you, travel is nothing if not educational.

  13. alexis October 12, 2010 at 5:15 PM #

    I think it’s very interesting that they don’t put blame on anybody and shows both sides of the story in the museum instead. It’s very important to show both sides. I’m interested in going to see the place now.

    • Steph October 14, 2010 at 3:19 AM #

      It’s really worth a visit if you are in Japan. I’m so glad I went.

  14. Sasha October 13, 2010 at 12:16 AM #

    I remember at school when I was 9 we read ‘Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes’ since then all i’ve been able to associate with Hiroshima was a girl dying or Leukaemia. It’s amazing to think that despite what was done to the people, they are not filled with spite and hatred. Really this is a message that should be sent all over the world! The things we all could learn!

    • Steph October 14, 2010 at 3:20 AM #

      Sadako and her cranes are definitely a big presence there, but the sad stories are countless. It was really heartbreaking. I’m glad they are using their past to promote peace though!

  15. Gray October 13, 2010 at 10:01 AM #

    This is a very moving piece for me. I remember reading the book Hiroshima in high school and being horrified by what the people on the ground suffered. Would that we, the human race, would learn a lesson for all time from this tragedy, but I’m afraid that probably isn’t the case. There are places we just shouldn’t go (and I’m not talking about travel); the use of nuclear weapons is one of those places.

    • Steph October 14, 2010 at 3:23 AM #

      I’m ashamed to say I’d never really seriously considered to toll of using nuclear weapons clearly until this week, and now I am staunchly opposed to their existance.

  16. Rease October 16, 2010 at 11:50 PM #

    I am 1/4 Japanese, my father was born in Japan. I have always dreamt of visiting Japan, a dream I still plan to accomplish. Hiroshima is a strange thing to think about for me, as 7 of my great uncles fought for Japan, so I almost feel more connected to the Japanese when it comes to war. This article was really interesting, I am in love with the paper cranes. It makes me think of sitting down with my aunt with a thousand tiny pieces of colored paper and learning origami.

    • Steph October 18, 2010 at 11:38 PM #

      What a lovely comment. You should definitely pay Japan a visit, I think it would be very revealing. I think it’s interesting how Japan and the US could be such bitter enemies, and now such good friends.

  17. Verity November 9, 2010 at 5:46 AM #

    It must have been so moving. I remember learning about Sadako, the little girl and her paper cranes, at school. It was so sad, she never made it to one thousand which would have granted her, her wish. It is so touching that everyone leaves paper cranes for her. Your pictures are so beautiful and haunting.

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