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Connecting the 2 Sides

Chie Yamagishi

Sep. 13, 2016

A paper crane folded by a girl who died from the atomic bombing in Hiroshima is on display in Pearl Harbor, thanks in part to the efforts of one Japanese-American living in Hawaii.

When US President Barack Obama visited Hiroshima in May, he offered handmade cranes to the atomic-bombed city. Paper cranes became a symbol of peace after the death of one victim of the bomb.

Her name was Sadako Sasaki. She was exposed to radiation, and 10 years later, she died of leukemia at the age of 12.

Sadako folded more than 1,000 cranes in her sickbed to pray for her recovery. She believed in an old Japanese legend that says anyone who folds 1,000 cranes will be granted a wish.

Dozens of her small paper cranes are on display at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. They help tell of the atrocity of the bombing and the importance of peace.

One of her cranes can be seen in Pearl Harbor, the site of an attack that brought the US into World War 2.

Seventy-five years ago, the Japanese military mounted a surprise attack there. About 2,400 people were killed in one day, and the military strike prompted the United States to enter World War Two.

A memorial was built where a battleship was bombed and sunk during the attack. The remains of more than 1,000 US soldiers lie beneath the waves. More than 1.8 million people visit this site every year and pay tribute to the victims.

A crane folded by Sadako is on display inside the specially designed box at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center. It's about one square centimeter.

One woman living in Honolulu played a big role in getting the crane included in the permanent exhibition. Hiromi Peterson married an American and has lived in Hawaii for more than 40 years. She's originally from Hiroshima and her family suffered from the atomic bombing 71 years ago.

Peterson worked as a Japanese teacher at a high school in Honolulu. She created textbooks and taught her students about the atomic bombing. But it wasn't easy, as many Americans reacted by pointing out the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Born in Hiroshima, Peterson was aware of Sadako's story and her cranes on display in the city, symbolizing wishes for peace. So she was delighted to learn in 2012 that Sadako's family donated a crane to Pearl Harbor.

"I thought it’s just unbelievable, and I actually had tears in my eyes," Peterson says. "I thought this will be a good chance for the students to learn about the meaning of the crane and also that the historical moment that Hiroshima and Pearl Harbor will be connected."

The facility could not exhibit the crane right away, as it required a special container to protect it from light and humidity that would cost thousands of dollars.

Peterson asked her students to help raise funds. Together with Japanese-American groups, they gathered about 70,000 dollars. That was enough for the crane to be added to the exhibition.

Jackie Kojima, a former student who led the fundraising effort, says the campaign gave her an opportunity to consider how to help promote peace.

"Everyone thinks that world peace is unattainable," Kojima says. "It’s such a big idea that people don’t know where to start. But by participating in these... I realized that there are small steps you can take towards world peace."

Many visitors see Sadako's crane and learn about the human consequences of the atomic bombing.

"We are at Pearl Harbor, which was the ultimate confrontation between the United States and Japan, and we have this, this significant story and this little crane that really in many ways promotes peace and harmony, which singularly is the theme for the memorial as well," says Daniel Martinez, chief historian at the WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument.

Even survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack who lost comrades and loved ones are touched to see the crane. Many of them believe that the atomic bombing ended the war, but they understand the significance of the crane as a symbol of peace and reconciliation.

"This will mean a peace activity all over the world. That’s what the crane will mean to everybody that comes and sees it. They will feel the peace. I love you, you love me. We love each other," says Starling Cale, a survivor of the Pearl Harbor attack.

"It shows you that everybody wants to get together again and make peace," says Alfred Rodrigues, another survivor. "No more war."

Even now, students from the high school where Peterson worked go to the visitor center once a month. They tell Sadako's story and teach the guests how to make paper cranes.

"Before Japan and the US always said, 'oh remember Pearl Harbor. No more Hiroshima.' But the tiny crane made by Sadako, I feel resolved all those words in it. People felt like, we have to move on to the next level," Peterson says.


NHK World's Chie Yamagishi joins anchors Aki Shibuya and Sho Beppu in the studio.

Shibuya: How do the people in Hawaii feel about accepting a crane made by an atomic bomb victim?

Yamagishi: It's been 3 years since the exhibition of her crane began. Many people there are welcoming the crane. They told me that it's important to recognize the suffering of both sides and make sure it never happens again.
What surprised me the most is that these veterans also welcomed the crane as a symbol of the peace. I was also impressed by the activities young locals are involved in regarding the issue. They offer thousands of cranes to Hiroshima and collect signatures for nuclear abolition.

Beppu: US President Barack Obama presented Hiroshima with his own paper cranes. Is there any connection between his action and the exhibition of Sadako's crane in Pearl Harbor? We know that President Obama is basically from Hawaii.

Yamagishi: I'm not sure if there is a direct connection, but the students who helped raise funds for the exhibition were from Punahou School. That's the high school President Obama graduated from, and I met with President Obama's former homeroom teacher. He said that he thinks Obama learned about the cranes in Hawaii.

"I am sure that a lot of local people are familiar with that, with the significance of tsuru (cranes) and Sadako, too. And I thought that if the President Obama did learn about it and he did fold the cranes himself, I think that it’s great."
Eric Kusunoki / US President Barack Obama's former homeroom teacher

Shibuya: Many people still have memories of the atrocities in Hiroshima and Pearl Harbor. Isn't it significant that a paper crane folded by a child victim of the atomic bomb is helping to bridge the 2 sides?

Yamagishi: The paper crane is small and fragile, but it has great meaning. Sadako's family members are saying that they will continue to donate her cranes all over the world, in the hope that her wishes for peace will be realized one day.