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The Okinawa Crane Project

By: Gretchen Westlight

Date Posted: 2000-07-31

One morning I awoke to a news report that the three American soldiers who had been charged with kidnapping, beating and raping a 12-year-old Japanese school girl had all pleaded guilty to various of the charges.I had been upset about the incident since I had first heard about it, but felt paralyzed - as usual - about something that seemed so far away and about which I could do nothing. Yet, that morning I had an inspiration: I wanted to fold 1000 origami cranes for that girl. The crane is a very powerful symbol in Japanese culture; one thousand origami cranes is said to make a specific wish come true, and in general is thought to bring healing, peace and good luck.

I knew I couldn't fold all one thousand on my own, so I posted a very tentative suggestion to the origami email list. I was immediately overwhelmed by the response. Something about the idea touched people very deeply, and many wanted to contribute cranes.Distilling what people wrote to me, I think what was so appealing about this project was that it was an act of creation, that it was a gift, that it was an incident that happened to one person, that it was a culturally-specific gesture, that it allowed people whose lives have been touched by rape to reach out, and/or that it was a means of cultural atonement. Somehow it was both the proverbial act of random kindness and senseless beauty.

Ultimately I gathered a list of more than 70 email addresses of people who wanted to participate. The first three weeks, I spent 3 hours each day just processing messages about the project, and had time to fold only one crane myself! With that many people wanting to pitch in, I knew it would be folly to try to make the cranes uniform in any way, so the only parameters I specified were that they had to be folded with paper that was 3-6" square.

Cranes started arriving a week after I posted my original instructions, and continued to fly in on a daily basis for the next month. They were made from standard origami paper,
fine handmade papers, maps, and anything that people could get (including gum wrappers and notebook paper).

In the end, there were 2315 cranes folded by more than 200 people from 32 states and 9 other countries (Austria, Bosnia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Japan, Kenya, Korea).

The folders, women and men, ranged in age from 6 to 78. Many people signed their cranes, or wrote blessings and prayers inside them. Before stringing, the cranes were sorted by size: small, medium and large. I made 2 mobiles on macramé hoops with regular strands of cranes, one with a gold crane on the top and bottom of each strand, the other with silver. There were a bunch of "miscellaneous" cranes: teensy ones, huge ones, cranes-in-a-circle, and even a peace dove.

I made a separate mobile with all of these. All of the cranes accompanied by two cover letters were sent to a women's organization in Naha City, near where the girl lives. The women's organization has forwarded the cranes to the city administration where the girl lives, and the last I heard is that they were being held for her there.

I find myself with conflicting emotions: I am exhilarated and proud that the project was so successful, and yet always saddened by and regretful of the tragedy that prompted it. It has been a challenge to hold all of my emotions and the wishes, dreams and desires of everyone who participated. It has also been a tremendous privilege to have so many people share their lives with me. I am so grateful to all of the participants. Co-ordinating this project has been one of the highlights of my life.

Crane Making Tips

If you want some advice for stringing cranes, here it is: the 4.5" paper works best, in my opinion (both for folding and for stringing). Fifty 6" cranes = sixty-five 4.5" cranes = one hundred 3" cranes = one 5' strand. Do not use lamé thread. Use a long blunt needle. It always takes longer to string them then you think it will. Keep the cranes flat. Use a bead or tassel at the bottom of each strand.

There are other on-going crane folding projects happening, most of them related to the Hiroshima Peace Park. It's pretty easy to keep paper on hand so that you can fold a crane whenever you have the opportunity. I encourage everyone to do so - you just never know when they'll come in handy.

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