MAY/JUNE 2017: BY VERONICA LEIGH
Some stories you read or hear as a child stay with you for the rest of your life. Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes is one of them. I read it for the first time in Mrs. Jones’ second grade class. She assigned us the book. On Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, we had an hour set aside for reading and for a week or so, I spent my time learning the story of Sadak—how she lived her short life and how she died. Though she lived in the 1940’s and 1950’s in Japan, it was easy to fall in love with this bright and beautiful girl.
Sadako’s story begins in 1945, when she was two years old. Japan and America had waged war for almost four years. Though the war in Europe had ended, the one in the Pacific raged on. On August 6, 1945, the US dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It wiped out thousands and brought Japan to its knees. The war was over and for those of us in the US, there was peace.
Japan had to rise from the ashes and heal itself. Sadako and her family, the Sasaki’s, lived in Hiroshima, approximately a mile from where the bomb landed. Little Sadako was blown out of the window, but to her mother’s relief, she survived and suffered no lacerations. Sadako, her brother, and her mother escaped. Only the grandmother turned back to get something from the house and was never seen again. As the Sasaki’s left, black rain began to fall. Unbeknownst to them, they it exposed them to radiation.
Time passed. The bomb became a dim memory in Sadako’s mind. She grew up, went to school, had many friends. A natural-born athlete, she took part in the class relay teams and competed. She was a happy girl. She felt ill during a race and had a dizzy spell. Many more spells followed. Sadako developed swellings around her ears and her glands. Fearing she would have to give up running, she tried to hide her illness from her family. When she collapsed in the classroom, the school notified her family. They diagnosed Sadako with “Atom Bomb’s Disease,” better known as leukemia. The ambitious twelve-year-old had only a year to live. Sadako received treatments and blood transfusions, but over time she weakened.
A roommate told Sadako of an ancient Japanese legend. The gods promise to grant a wish to the person who can fold one thousand paper cranes. The Japanese consider the crane a symbol of longevity. Sadako began to fold her paper cranes. Friends supplied her with paper from school. She also used medical wrappings, newspapers, and gift paper. Her wish was to be well and spread peace around the world. Reports conflict over whether she achieved her goal of making one thousand paper cranes. The book I read as a girl said she did not; her family claims she did and continued to make paper cranes.
“I will write peace on your wings and you will fly all over the world,” Sadako had said, thinking of her cranes.
By October of 1955, Sadako was not doing well. Her left leg swelled up and turned purple. She never lost hope and remained cheerful. Her mother made her a special kimono with cherry blossoms on it; that way she could wear the traditional Japanese folk outfit before she died.
Her final words were, “It’s tasty,” when she ate a bowl of tea on rice. She died on October 25, 1955. She was only twelve years old. The family buried the paper cranes she made, and the ones her class made in her honor, with her.
Sadako’s family and friends published letters to raise funds to build her a memorial. They erected a statue in Sadako’s memory in Peace Memorial Park, in Hiroshima, with a plaque that reads, “This is our cry. This is our prayer. Peace in the world.” Children leave paper cranes there in her honor and Sadako is a role model for many.
Only through love and peace will we overcome war.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Veronica Leigh is an aspiring novelist, who lives in Indiana with her family and six furbabies. Her obsessions range from Jane Austen to the Holocaust to Once Upon a Time. She has published two short autobiographical pieces and hopes to see more in print. She also lurks on her blog.
Anime image credit here.