On Oct. 19, the peace cranes of Plymouth UCC in Shaker Heights, Ohio, were added to the Children's Peace Memorial in Hiroshima, Japan. Lee Makela Photo.
As he approached the Children's Peace Memorial in Hiroshima, Japan, for the fifth time in his life, Lee Makela realized that this visit felt different.
Makela, a 27-year member of Plymouth UCC in Shaker Heights, Ohio, was delivering "peace cranes" on behalf of his church. In hushed, excited fashion, Makela and his two traveling companions added the 1,000 paper cranes to hooks in one of the many plexiglass boxes surrounding the memorial. Each box contains 100 hooks and holds 100,000 cranes. Five of the boxes already were filled, the cranes in them hanging colorfully against the backdrop of the memorial and museum commemorating the dropping of the atomic bomb.
"In past visits to the memorial and museum, I've always been struck by a sense of frustration," he says. "This time, I really felt I was doing something—even if only delivering a prayer for peace."
Adding the cranes to the memorial on Oct. 19 was the end of a church project begun almost a year earlier. Following the events of September 11, 2001, the children's and youth groups of Plymouth UCC began folding cranes to decorate the sanctuary during the Christmas holidays.
They also learned the story of Sadako, a young Japanese girl who initially survived the bombing of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945. Sadly, she later developed fall-out related leukemia. While under treatment for her illness, she began making origami (folded paper) cranes. Japanese legend holds that a wish will be granted if one folds 1,000 cranes, and Sadako desperately wanted to live. Sadako folded 644 cranes before her death in 1955 at age 12.
After her death, Sadako's classmates and friends folded the remaining 356 cranes in her honor, then dedicated them as a prayer for peace. In 1958, the memorial—with a statue of Sadako holding a golden crane—was dedicated in Hiroshima's Peace Park to the hundreds of child victims of the atomic bomb and as an eternal prayer for a peaceful world.
Since then, people from around the world have brought their collections of 1,000 cranes to the monument as an expression of their prayers for peace. Each year, the Folded Crane Club, organized in Sadako's honor, places 1,000 cranes beneath her statue on Aug. 6, which today is known as "Peace Day."
Upon hearing the story, the Plymouth youth took on the task of sending their own peace cranes to Hiroshima, stringing them together in 100-crane chains. Makela volunteered to deliver the cranes during an already- scheduled October 2002 trip to Japan. Before long, the effort expanded to include adult members of the congregation. Makela says the crane makers were about two-thirds youth and one-third adult members of the church. "People were still folding cranes the day before I left for Japan," he says with a smile.
While hanging the chains, Makela saw the other origami cranes around him. "I was proud to be delivering the cranes from my church, but I knew that the cranes around me were from all over the world," he says. "I knew people worked hard and folded them intentionally as a peace prayer."
Shortly after returning home, he received a letter from Tadatoshi Akiba, Mayor of Hiroshima. "So that we can honor your desire for peace, we wish to enter your name and the number of paper cranes you offered in Hiroshima City's Paper Crane Database as a record for future generations," Akiba wrote. "To avoid a repetition of the tragedy that befell Sadako Sasaki...we are working to build a peaceful world without nuclear weapons."
Makela says he feels fortunate to have been part of the effort to bring his congregation's prayers for peace to Hiroshima. "And, ultimately," he says, "how confident I am that in the end peace, indeed, will prevail."
Barb Powell is Director for Production in the UCC's Proclamation, Identity and Communication Ministry.
Lee Makela is Associate Professor of East Asian History at Cleveland State University. He travels to Japan frequently with the Smithsonian as a study leader. Learn more at www.plymouthchurchucc.org and academic.csuohio.edu/makelaa/japan/ japanrpt200204.htm.