Paper Cranes for Japan
19, May 2011 § 2 Comments
by Stephanie Dissette
Paros is a small island, Paroikia a small town, and The Aegean Center a small school. I see the same thirty faces every day, and when I don’t see one of them in the course of the day, it strikes me as both strange and somewhat unsettling. I don’t have internet access at my fingertips every second either, so any time I do spend online communicating with the outside world is a deliberate decision and a scheduled part of my day. These are all things that I actually like about being here – I appreciate the intimacy of a small community. Still, when major things are happening outside of my small world, it’s easy to feel distant and separate in an uncomfortable way – how can I participate in our whole world from Paros?
When this last tsunami and earthquake hit Japan, the “Great East Japan Earthquake” as it is formally titled, I was hiking through the beautiful landscape of a Greek island. That weekend, I wasn’t on the internet once. It wasn’t until the next Monday, sitting in our regular Monday Meeting, that I heard about this disaster. If I hadn’t realized how small my world was, how small I was before, that earthquake certainly put everything into perspective. How could anyone not be affected by that news, by those images, by the suffering of humanity? And the number one question remains, what can any of us do?
That week Jane Pack told us the story of Sadako Sasaki. In August of 1945, the atomic bomb was dropped in Japan near Sadako’s home. Ten years later, she was diagnosed with leukemia, hospitalized, and told she had a year or less to live. While she was in the hospital, her best friend Chizuko Hanamoto came to visit, and brought with her a piece of paper to fold it into an origami paper crane. According to ancient Japanese tradition, anyone who folds a thousand cranes will be granted a wish, and Chizuko believed this would help heal her friend. Now, this is where the story gets a bit confused as there are many versions of what actually happened, but what I was told is that Sadako spent the remainder of her life folding these cranes, at first with the hope of alleviating her own suffering. When she realized the number of people affected by the radiation, her wish expanded to include them all.
Since her death, Sadoko has become a heroine to the Japanese people. There is even a monument to her, holding a golden crane, at the Hiroshima memorial, and the cranes continue to be a symbol of happiness, good luck, peace and longevity to the whole world. From this story, Jane hoped that we, as art students, could show our support for Japan by folding cranes.
I will never forget the peace Sadoko gave me the night we all came together to fold cranes. It was difficult at first, remembering each step in the process, folding precisely and accurately. Many of us had never done origami before, and it took time to get into a rhythm, but once we found that rhythm… pure peace. There is great beauty in the ability to bring order, design, and art into a world that is so full of chaos and disorder.
After that first night, it was Jun-Pierre Shiozawa’s idea to string our finished cranes all together and hang them from the school balconies and windows during Easter week, the busiest week of spring in all of Greece, but especially Paros because of its beautiful church, the Εκατονταπυλιανή or Church of a Hundred Doors. We met a second night to string them all together, and finally did hang them out around Easter time.
Paros may be a small island, far away and isolated from the world, but Paros and The Aegean Center care very much about their place in the world; and for the time that I am both an Aegean Center student and a member of the Parian community, I intend to do my part to prove that. The cranes, of course, didn’t change the disastrous effects of that earthquake. They didn’t bring supplies to those in need in Japan. They didn’t solve any of the radiation problems either. But on the one day that the ever-changing Parian weather allowed our cranes to hang from the school building, almost everyone who walked by stopped to look, asked us what we were doing, and discussed their feelings over this world crisis. Perhaps those simple paper birds brought some peace to everyone that day.
What a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing it.
I was fortunate enough to visit Sadako’s memorial in Hiroshima back in 2009, and it was a most overwhelming experience–an experience of heartbreak, but also, of hope.
Thank you for writing and sharing this piece, Stephanie. And a job well done to everyone at the Center.