The art of folding paper is known as origami, a term of japanese origin. However, the activity is not exclusively oriental. Distinct paperfolding traditions arose in Europe, China, and Japan, and were mostly separate until the 20th century. There is a truly remarkable quantity of different paper figurines that come from each of these areas, but none has a more touching story than the senbazuru.
A senbazuru is made of a thousand paper cranes that are joined together by strings, used also as a means of hanging the contraption when completed. An old japanese legend states that he who completes a senbazuru will be granted a wish by a crane like the ones they made. Others say that it gives eternal good luck to its owner, which makes it a popular gift in japanese culture. This is because the crane is considered a mystical animal in Japan, said to live a thousand years and so, each if the cranes in a senbazuru symbolizes one year of a crane’s life.
The senbazuru became very popular thanks to the story of Sadako Sasaki, a Japanese girl who lived in Hiroshima at the time of the bombing during World War II and developed leukemia as a sequel. As her health worsened, Sadako began making origami cranes with the goal of regaining her health through a wish. In a popular version of the story (the book Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes), she folded only 644 before she became too weak to fold anymore, and died on the 25 of October, 1955. In her honor, her classmates completed the rest for her. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, however, states that she did complete the 1,000 cranes and continued past that when her wish did not come true. There is a statue of Sadako holding a crane in Hiroshima Peace Park, where people leave cranes at the statue in memory of the departed spirits of their ancestors.
Thanks to Sadako’s story, the senbazuru has also become a symbol of peace, and Sadako herself is now a symbol of the impact of nuclear war, but she is not the only girl used as a representative of the victims of WWII. There are many others, such as Yoko Moriwaki, who also lived in Hiroshima at that time, or Anne Frank, who lived very far away but faced trials that, albeit different from Sadako’s and Yoko’s, were caused by the same war.
And now this is where my own reflection on war and peace should go. But honestly, I don’t really know how to start. Just knowing what ocurred during previous conflicts, their causes and their consequences is really not enough to fully comprehend wat a war does to a country, even the winning ones. I could try to describe it, but I cannot give you a truly reliable account.
But even the smallest step toward understanding helps us refrain from commiting the same mistakes again and again. And so, the most straightforward and effective way to even begin to try to understand what a war really entails is to speak to those who were actually in one. ‘But people grow old’ you might say ‘They die and are forgotten’. Ah, but their work doesn’t die.
Pick a war, any war. Unfortunately, there is an immense number to choose from. I guarantee that there is at least one piece of art about that specific conflit. Maybe the older ones have gotten lost throughout time, but if you take one of the newer conflicts, you’ll find many, many pieces of art that stem from it. The most well-known example is Anne Frank’s Diary, but lets go back in time a couple of decades and take a look at World War I. Only in Britain, a vast spectre of literary contributions arose during and after the conflict. Among them, there is a poem that has long caught my eye. And although it is well-known, I think it worth it to write it down here for you:
1914 by Wilfred Owen
War broke: and now the Winter of the world
with perishing great darkness closes in.
The foul tornado, centred at Berlin,
is over all the width of Europe whirled,
rending the sails of progress. Rent or furled
are all Art’s ensigns. Verse wails. Now begin
famines of thought and feeling. Love’s wine’s thin.
The grain of human Autumn rots, down-hurled.
For after Spring had bloomed in early Greece,
and Summer blazed her glory out with Rome,
an Autumn softly fell, a harvest home,
a slow grand age, and rich with all increase.
But for us, wild Winter, and the need
of sowings for new Spring, and blood for seed.