The Story Of Sadako And The Thousand Cranes: Working Through Despair

On August 5, 1945, the atomic bomb exploded in Hiroshima. Two kilometres away from where the bomb fell, a two-year-old child Sadako Sasaki and her elder brother Masahiro Sasaki felt the impact of the bomb. The Japan times reports what happened that eventful day.

Masahiro Sasaki was only 4 years old when the B-29 bomber Enola Gay dropped its atomic bomb on Hiroshima, wiping out the central part of the city on that sunny Aug. 6, 1945, morning.In just one moment, the “Little Boy” A-bomb turned the beautiful city into ashes, and about 140,000 people were killed, immediately or in the weeks and months that followed due to radiation exposure.Sasaki was at home with his 2-year-old sister, Sadako, his mother and his grandmother, just 1.6 km from ground zero.Together, they ran to a nearby river to escape the fire and together they huddled as the “black rain” poured down on them. Without knowing it at the time, they were all exposed to a massive amount of radiation.

The bomb was dropped by the USA on Hiroshima killed 80,000 people. Another atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki.  These two events marked the end of World War II, and Japan signed the peace treaty. The effects of the bomb were devastating. Several thousand more died due to radiation and its effects.Sadako grew to be a strong girl of ten who loved to run.Her teacher Nomura got her class to run races and they were called the bamboos. Sadako ran like the wind, leaving her classmates behind, not before sniggering as she went past them.

screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-5-05-32-pm Sadako runs like the wind

She loved the sensation of having no boundaries and she ran faster and faster to the finishing line.In one such race, when she was eleven-years-old she fainted. The doctor who checked her confirmed her family's worst fears. It turned out to be leukaemia or blood cancer, a direct result of the atomic bombing. Sadako knew she was going to die, but her family realised this only later when they found her blood reports near her death bed, as well as the letters she wrote to friends.


Sadako faints

She had hoped to grow and become a runner. Her family hoped against hope.Her mother stitched her a new kimono. Sadako wore the kimono and felt like a little princess and basked in the love of her family, despite the impending disaster.


Thrilled to wear her new kimono

Her friend told her the legend of the thousand cranes. it was said that if one made  thousand paper cranes then their wish would come true. Sadako started in earnest to make her origami cranes. She was under treatment and often became very sick, but Sadako would not stop.Through blood transfusions and seeing other children also affected by the bombing die one after the other, Sadako kept at her folding. Though paper was not easily available and she made do with wrappings of medicines or other scraps of paper she found in the hospital. Sadako's cranes were small and she needed a needle to sharpen her folds. The act of folding became her very shout for life, hidden in  every fold a prayer.


Sadako gets her paper cranes hung in the hospital

Her father worried about her wearing herself out, but Sadako would reply:

It's okay, it's okay. I have a plan.

Sadako wanted to live very badly.It is said that when she finished making 700 cranes, her health took a turn for the worse.She never recovered.She was twelve-years-old when she died in 1955. Her friends were beside themselves with grief, but they knew that they must finish Sadako's cranes. They all came together to make the cranes and soon one thousand cranes were ready. Her elder brother Sasaki Masahiro however, says that she crossed making 1000 cranes, stopping at 1400 cranes.


Sadako's classmates fold more paper cranes

The children also raised money by publishing letters to build a memorial to her and the other children who lost their lives to the horrific bombing. In the Hiroshima Peace Park is the statue of a young girl holding a crane in her hand. A plaque below it reads:

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


People from all over the world leave paper cranes at the foot of the statue on the day commemorating the spirits of the dead. Sadako's family gave away many of her paper cranes. The last three of the five remaining have found homes in the Tribute WTC Visitor Center in New York (commemorates the 9/11 tragedy), the Austrian Peace Museum and the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor.

This remarkable child's story finds a special place in the hearts of millions because it tells us how to never give up hope. It also urges the leaders of the world to work harder for peace, so that the children of the earth may have a bright future.

You can read the story of Sadako in the picture book Sadako, written by Eleanor Coer and illustrated by Ed Young.

Picture credit: from the book Sadako, illustrated by Ed Young.