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Park Service receives tokens of peace from Japan

By WILLIAM COLE | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser (Tribune News Service) | Published: January 18, 2017

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s presence at Pearl Harbor will endure in the form of a small yet powerful symbol of peace and reconciliation between Japan and America.

Abe, who on Dec. 27 became the first sitting Japanese leader to visit the USS Arizona Memorial, later signed a small origami crane that he folded using green paper, while first lady Akie Abe had folded a pink crane, writing her name on one wing and “peace” on the other.

Both were presented to the National Park Service at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center on Jan. 6 by Yuji Sasaki, who brought the two paper cranes — and thousands of others — from Japan.

Sasaki’s aunt Sadako Sasaki succumbed to leukemia 10 years after the Aug. 6, 1945, Hiroshima atom bomb blast, when she was just 12. Legend held that by folding 1,000 paper cranes, a wish would be granted. Sadako painstakingly folded that many cranes and more, hoping to get well.

It’s said that she held up one of the cranes and said, “I will write ‘peace’ on your wings, and you will fly all over the world.” The young girl’s plight became an international symbol of innocent lives lost in war and the desire for peace — a message carried forward by her family.

Yuji Sasaki was touched by President Barack Obama’s gift of four paper cranes he folded and presented when he visited Hiroshima in May, and wanted to reciprocate by presenting cranes to the Arizona Memorial visitor center, said Bishop Eric Matsumoto of the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii.

Obama wrote in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum guest book at the time, “We have known the agony of war. Let us now find the courage, together, to spread peace, and pursue a world without nuclear weapons.”

Sasaki put out a call to individuals and organizations in Japan for cranes, and Matsumoto said one person who responded was Akie Abe, the wife of the prime minister. She had paid a low-key visit to the Arizona Memorial in August.

“She folded a paper crane and contacted Yuji Sasaki and said that she wanted him to include this crane with the cranes that he was planning to bring over to Pearl Harbor,” said Matsumoto, who presided over the ceremony.

Around the New Year’s holiday, the prime minister also folded a crane, Matsumoto said.

On Jan. 6 Sasaki gave the cranes to the Park Service during an informal ceremony that wasn’t publicized. He also presented a white crane folded and signed by a former Japanese navy man named Tajiri who trained as part of a squadron that attacked Oahu but who was not deployed with the unit at the time of the attack, as well as several thousand other cranes folded by people in Japan.

The gesture was made on what was Jan. 7 in Japan — which was Sadako’s birthday.

“Peace and reconciliation are a key part of the story that we share with the public here at World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument (which includes the Arizona Memorial),” Superintendent Jacqueline Ashwell said in an email. “The National Park Service is deeply honored to receive these cranes. They are a lasting tribute to Sadako Sasaki’s message of peace and her enduring legacy, and we are honored to share them with the world.”

Ashwell said the cranes folded by the prime minister and first lady will be displayed but that it will take time to design and build an exhibit.

The National Park Service in 2013 unveiled at the visitor center a tiny paper crane folded by Sadako, given as a gift by her family. The crane, made from a strip of paper that contained medicine, is less than an inch from wingtip to wingtip and was folded with a needle.

Masahiro Sasaki, Sadako’s brother, came to Hawaii from Japan for the presentation. He was 4 and Sadako was 2 when they were exposed to radiation just over a mile from ground zero. He recalled the family fleeing the fire in a boat on a river as rain full of black soot fell.

The Japanese man said it was his belief that his sister folded 1,600 or more cranes. By the end of August 1955, when she was in the hospital, she had completed the first 1,000. She died Oct. 25, 1955, surrounded by family.

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