Hawaii-made musical about atomic bomb victim touches hearts in Hiroshima

A musical produced in Hawaii has had an emotional homecoming in the atomic-bombed city of Hiroshima. "Peace On Your Wings" depicts the true story of a girl who folded 1,000 origami cranes in the hope of overcoming the disease that ravaged her body as a result of the blast.

Composer Jenny Taira drew inspiration for the score from a book that has stayed with her since childhood.

"Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes" tells the tale of Sasaki Sadako, who was two years old when the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. She developed leukemia after being exposed to radiation, and tried to wish away her illness by making 1,000 paper cranes.

Sasaki Sadako

She eventually died from the disease aged just 12.

Paper cranes

The Ohana Arts Youth Theatre Company debuted its take on the story back in 2014, and has since toured Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Jose and New York City.

And on September 2 and 3, the current cast performed "Peace On Your Wings" at an international youth center in Sadako's home city.

Arrival a decade in the making

The road to Hiroshima began about ten years ago, when a second-generation survivor of the bombing who lives in Hawaii dropped by a rehearsal.

"My entire family were there at the time," Hiromi Peterson revealed to the cast. "And it claimed the lives of my mother and sister."

Hiromi Peterson

Peterson started thinking about how meaningful it would be for the cast of children to see Hiroshima with their own eyes. After all, "the Pacific War began in Hawaii and ended in Hiroshima," she says.

The wheels were set in motion in 2019, when Peterson introduced Taira and the musical's lyricist to Kurose Shinichiro, the honorary chair of a YMCA in Hiroshima, who was visiting Honolulu.

Kurose was deeply touched by their enthusiasm, and made arrangements for "Peace On Your Wings" to be performed in Japan.

Composer Jenny Taira, right, and lyricist Laurie Rubin

The plan was then put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic, but Peterson's long-held wish has finally become a reality.

She couldn't have been any happier. "The cast have spoken for the survivors, and now this day is finally here. I hope these children and their families can see what really happened in Hiroshima."

Cast members visit Sadako's school

Before taking to the stage, the cast paid a visit to the school Sadako attended all those years ago. They even had the opportunity to meet one of her classmates.

The cast visit Sadako's school.

Kawano Tomiko shared her memories of Sadako.

Atomic bomb survivor Kawano Tomiko

"There were small paper cranes hanging all around Sadako's hospital bed," she recalled. "And she said, 'It's hard to get rid of this disease, so I'll fold cranes until I get better.'"

Kawano's words resonated deeply with the young group, especially the girl chosen to play Sadako.

"It made me feel like we're in the presence of Sadako right now," said Emi Sampson, whose mother is Japanese.

Emi Sampson, who plays Sadako

Come showtime, it was the children's chance to leave a lasting impression of their own. Being in Hiroshima added a new layer of pressure, but they didn't disappoint.

"Peace On Your Wings" on stage in Hiroshima

"I got goosebumps from the singing," said one Japanese student in the audience. "There were many stories about Sadako that I didn't know about, and I was reminded about the importance of friendship."

The performance features a large picture of Sadako.

Sadako's real-life friend struggled to contain her emotions. "I was so impressed, I burst into tears," said Kawano. "It's so meaningful that they came to Hiroshima, where all this actually happened, and gave a performance like this."

Kawano applauds

And she's not the only one who shed a tear.

"I've been crying in so many different parts of the show," said Sampson. Because we're here and it's… It's not acting anymore. It's just real emotion."

Sampson as Sadako
A monument of Sadako holding a paper crane in Hiroshima
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