Sadako Sasaki (7 January 1943-25 October 1955) was a Japanese girl who was two years old when the atomic bomb was dropped on 6 August 1945, near her home in Hiroshima, Japan.
Sadako was at home when the explosion occurred, about one mile from where the bomb landed but didn’t suffer any injuries at the time. It wasn’t until almost ten years later, in November 1954, that Sadako developed swellings on her neck and behind her ears. Early the following year, purple spots had formed on her legs and she was diagnosed with leukemia which her mother referred to it as “the atom bomb disease”. She was hospitalised on 21 February 1955, and given only a year to live.
Sadako’s best friend came to the hospital to visit, and cut a golden piece of paper into a square to fold it into a paper crane, in reference to the ancient Japanese legend that promises that anyone who folds a thousand origami cranes will be granted a wish.
Though Sadako had plenty of free time during her days in the hospital to fold the cranes, she lacked paper and would use whatever else she could scrounge up. This included going to other patients’ rooms to ask to use the paper from their get-well presents.
Sadako Sasaki died on 25 October 1955 at age 12. It is widely believed that Sadako had managed to fold 644 paper cranes, 356 cranes shy of her 1,000 crane goal, before she died. Her class mates and family folded the remaining cranes, and Sadako was she was buried with 1,000 cranes. Every year on 6 August, Peace Day, people visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum to place thousands of paper cranes around a golden statue of Sadako lifting up a huge paper crane with the following wish engraved on its base “This is our cry. This is our prayer. Peace in the world.”
You can read Sadako’s full story in Eleanor Coerr’s book Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, published by Hachette Children’s Books Australia.