Red-crowned cranes are majestic large birds that are revered in Japanese culture. Since they are not as common as other birds and were believed to live up to 1,000 years, they have become symbols of good luck and longevity. When origami became a popular pastime during the Edo period (17th century CE), people began folding cranes, and the paper crane has since assumed similar symbolic value as the live animal.
I learned to fold origami cranes, when I was approximately ten years old, and I still have the instructions that I used back then (not that I need them anymore). Together with an origami book, which surprisingly did not include instructions for the crane, my mom had also bought me a pack of made-in-Japan origami paper, which came – and this is no surprise at all – with crane-folding instructions. Once I had mastered the simpler folds from my book, learning how to fold cranes was the logical next step. Since that day, I have folded many many cranes in my life.
Other people’s folded cranes have also had an impact on me. When I visited the Japan Foundation library during the 2012 Doors Open Toronto, I found an origami crane on a book shelf that had a message on its wing, which read, “Unfold me!” Upon unfolding, a teeny teeny teeny paper crane fell out, and I was blown away anew by the magic of origami.
A few months later, my husband and I travelled to Japan on our honeymoon, and at our very first hotel, we were greeted by two paper cranes on our bed, which was not only a beautiful sight, but a gesture that made us feel welcome straight away.
The greatest impact on me, however, had Sadako Sasaki, whose story I encountered during my visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Sadako suffered from leukemia as a result of her exposure to the radiation of the atomic bomb when she was a small child in 1945. Believing in the old Japanese legend that promised the granting of one wish to anyone who folded one thousand paper cranes, she folded as many cranes and more in order to be granted the wish to overcome her illness. She died at the age of 12. While Sadako has become a symbol of innocent victims of war, the paper crane has become an important peace symbol. In honour of Sadako and all the innocent victims of the atomic bomb, I bought a pack of origami paper at the Peace Memorial Museum’s gift shop, folded a crane at the Children’s Peace Monument, and donated it right there. I think of Sadako and the victims of war every time I fold a crane.
When it comes to decorating cards with origami, there is nothing as versatile as the crane. It looks stunning in both 2D and 3D. It is thick enough, to jump out of the card and provide a nice texture, but thin enough to stay in shape without glue and complement a two-dimensional design. When glued to a card, one wing can be folded up, out, or to the side. There is no good side or bad side; a paper crane looks good on either side when it’s folded right. It is pretty on its own, but looks lovely in company, too, whether it’s two cranes beak to break, or a chain of cranes. And it fits a great variety of tones, not just in colour, but in sentiment. That’s why Paper Turns is full of paper cranes.