Japanese American Traditions
Tsuru: The Japanese Crane
Throughout history, birds have been viewed as animals of special value and have been endowed with meanings often drawn from legends and stories that have endured over many generations.
For the Japanese, the crane—or tsuru—is considered a national treasure, appearing in art, literature, and folklore. The Japanese regard the crane as a symbol of good fortune and longevity because of its fabled life span of a thousand years. It also represents fidelity, as Japanese cranes are known to mate for life. Over time, the crane has also evolved as a favorite subject of the Japanese tradition of paper folding—origami—as children and adults attempt to master this art.
Shortly after the end of World War II, the folded origami cranes came to symbolize a hope for peace through Sadako Sasaki and her unforgettable story of perseverance. Diagnosed with leukemia after being exposed to radiation after the bombing of Hiroshima, Sadako became determined to reach a goal of folding 1,000 cranes in hopes of being rewarded with health, happiness, and a world of eternal peace. Although she died before reaching her goal, the tradition of sending origami cranes to the Hiroshima memorial has endured as a symbol of the Japan’s ongoing wish for nuclear disarmament and world peace.
Today this tradition of folding 1,000 cranes represents a form of healing and hope during challenging times. After the events of September 11, 2001 the Japanese American National Museum’s staff and volunteers, along with many students and visitors folded thousands of cranes, and in a gesture of support and hope for peace sent them to fire and police stations, museums, and cultural institutions throughout New York City. During the run of September 11: Bearing Witness to History in the summer of 2004, visitors to the Japanese American National Museum had an opportunity to fold origami cranes as a symbol of healing.