CCA Pulse Magazine
A Wish’s Guardians | April Zuo
Wings white as snow, tips black as ebony, with graceful movements and a crown of brilliant red atop their head, red crowned cranes are the symbol of longevity, luck, and happiness in Japanese culture. Legend tells that these majestic birds can live up to one thousand years, and as mystical and holy creatures, they can grant one wish if ever encountered. Others believe that they would simply grant joy and prosperity.
Some time during the 6th century, Chinese monks carried paper to Japan, and soon after, the practice of origami, literally meaning “folding paper,” began. As it integrated into Japanese culture, it was only a matter of time before it joined with preexisting legends to give rise to something wonderful. And give rise it did.
From myths of birds and paper, stemmed the tradition of 1000 paper cranes. The legend goes that if 1000 origami cranes are made, one for each year in the life of the crane, the maker would be granted a wish by the gods. It can be anything: a new toy, a Christmas present, a pair of shoes, a good grade, a “yes” to a confession, that your crush would ask you out, etc. Other versions say that instead of one wish, one would be given happiness and eternal good luck, the most well known example of which would be a long life or recovery from illness. As such, these cranes are often popular gifts to give to the sick to wish them well and are often a combined effort between friends, families, and classmates. Sometimes, they are also given to athletic teams for good luck and a victorious return. There are also versions of the tale that speak of certain conditions. For example, some say that the cranes have to be completed within one year, while others say that all 1000 have to be folded by the same person.
The most famous story of these cranes by far is the one of Sadako Sasaki, a young Japanese girl who had fallen victim to the Atomic bombings of Hiroshima when she was just two years old. At the time of the explosion, she was blown out of the windows of her home and presumed dead by her mother, even as she rushed to find Sadako. However, she survived with no apparent physical injuries. She was lucky, and would go on to live another 10 years before she would develop malignant leukemia in the winter of 1954 as a result of radiation exposure due to uranium in the bombs.
After her hospitalization in February, 1955, Sadako began her journey to fold 1000 paper cranes with those around her, even though she was given no longer than a year to live. For the young girl, surrounded by her family and friends, the legend of the cranes was a much-needed comfort to all, and by the time of her passing in October of that year, she had completed some 1300 of them.
These cranes have become a symbol of peace after Sadako’s story was told to the world, and they carry ever more meaning in a world shut down by a pandemic. You don’t have to use them for something that reminds you of COVID-19, though. Just know that these cranes are a beacon you can turn to in a darkness with no end. Maybe it’s because they give you a goal to focus on, or maybe it’s because there’s something oddly comforting in superstition. Whatever it may be, it’s real and it’s beautiful, and as bird after graceful bird flaps away from under your fingertips, just keep your wish close to your heart and smile.