The tragic legacy of Sadako Sasaki and her thousand paper cranes

At two years old, she survived Hiroshima. Ten years later, she died from leukaemia caused by radiation. Today, she’s still a symbol of international peace, writes Olivia Campbell

Saturday 08 August 2020 17:24
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Sadako in 1954, a year before her diagnosis and death
Sadako in 1954, a year before her diagnosis and death

Sadako Sasaki hung up another paper crane, hundreds of which already brightened her sterile hospital room. She had a mission, but little time to finish it. According to an ancient Japanese legend, a wish will be granted by the gods to whoever folds a thousand origami cranes. Sadako had two wishes. The first was that she’d recover from leukaemia, an illness she’d developed 10 years after surviving the bombing of Hiroshima. When asked by her friends why she was folding so many, she replied: “Why do you think? I want to get better faster.”

She also wished for a better life for her family, peace and a world without war. Sadako’s resolve was strong. A paper shortage after the Second World War wouldn’t stop her. Instead, she used sweet wrappers, discarded gift wrap and even paper from medicine bottles. The young girl soon met her goal of a thousand paper cranes and even made 300 more. However, not even her determination and hope could stop the leukaemia that was coursing through her body. At just 12 years old, Sadako lost her battle.

Her tragic story, however, has managed to reverberate through time. Even today schoolchildren in Japan and around the world learn the tale of Sadako Sasaki, who has become a symbol of peace and the face of innocent victims of war. Seventy-five years after the world’s first atomic bomb was dropped over Hiroshima, the disaster still casts a long shadow, not just for those who survived but for the entire world.

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