Sadako was born into the Sasaki family on the 7th January 1943, in Kusunoki-cho, Hiroshima. This was a time of war. Two years later, on the 6th August 1945, an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima by American forces. By December, around 140,000 residents were dead. They died as a result of the bomb blast, the heat ray, fire and the radiation.
At 8.15 on the 6th August, the Sasaki family were eating breakfast. The blast hit their home. As it collapsed and was consumed by fire, Sadako’s grandmother and brother Masahiro were injured. Sadako and her mother were unharmed. However, as they fled to the Northern part of Hiroshima to join family, they were caught in the “black rain”. Altogether Sadako lost 12 relatives to the atomic bomb, including her grandmother.
Post-war, the Sasaki family worked to reconstruct their lives. Despite being a survivor of the Hiroshima bombing, Sadako grew up to be a healthy and athletic young girl, known in the Nobori-cho Elementary School for being the fastest runner in the school. It was in late 1954 that her health began to fail. Sadako was diagnosed with leukaemia, known as the “A-bomb disease”. She was admitted to the Hiroshima Red Cross Hospital on the 21st February 1955.
In order to bring cheer to the patients, school children from Nagoya sent the hospital 1000 multi-coloured paper cranes. This follows the Japanese legend, “fold 1000 paper cranes and your wish will come true”. Many patients, including Sadako, were inspired to fold their own paper cranes. Into each crane, Sadako folded her wish to get well. Paper was expensive so she used any paper she could lay her hands on, including adverts and medicine labels. Despite her failing health she folded over 1000 paper cranes, helped by family and school friends.
To the end she remained hopeful and stoic, according to her brother Masahiro. She was committed to peace, often singing the peace song ‘Genbaku-O-Yurusumaji’ (‘Never Again The A-bomb’). Her wish for life, however, was not to be granted. Sadako Sasaki lost her fight for life on the 25th October 1955, at the age of twelve. She was just one of the hundreds of thousands of people who lost their lives as a result of the Hiroshima bombing.
My next blog will talk of how Sadako, and the story of the thousand paper cranes, became the focus of peace education efforts in Japan and beyond. After this, I will write about the development of my bronze sculpture of Sadako for a peace garden in Wales.
I have heavily drawn on the excellent resources of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and its website – http://www.pcf.city.hiroshima.jp/index_e2.html
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, ‘Sadako and the Paper Cranes – Message of Life Transcending Time’- http://www.pcf.city.hiroshima.jp/frame/Virtual_e/exhibit_e/index.html
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, ‘Kid’s Peace Station’ – http://www.pcf.city.hiroshima.jp/frame/kids_e/sadako_e/index.html
Hawkins, Kathryn, 2010, ‘One Thousand Paper Cranes for Peace: The Story of Sadako Sasaki’ – http://gimundo.com/news/article/one-thousand-paper-cranes-for-peace-the-story-of-sadako-sasaki/