This is one of my favorite experiences during my visit to Japan, taken in Hiroshima (Janurary of 2004). My class had just finished touring the Peace Memorial and Museum, which is all at once a serene, deeply sad and horrifying place to experience. Thousands of relics, treasures and lives mangled by heat, light and radiation, on display or photographed and carefully catalogued to give a face and a name to each person or object owned by a person. Everything had a story. Carbon shadows of a human being burned into concrete steps, dog-like, deformed human fingernail clippings, a child’s tricycle and burned school uniform, a collection of Sedako’s paper cranes… by the time I left the museum, I hung back from the class and was in tears. It was such a draining experience, but I would never consider it to have been negative. It is the good kind of sadness, the kind that settles into your bones without wearing away at your being. And, the truth is, I was a little worried how I would be viewed in Hiroshima, this was my first time abroad and I was the typical fairly clueless American, nevermind my country’s not so distant history with the city.
That was when I was approached by these awesome kids, who were rowdy but adorably empathetic, who, despite the language barrier, implored me not to cry and that it was all OK. I was embarrassed for sure but relieved that I had some friendly local company. Then, as if out of a cheesy movie or sitcom, one of the kids pulls out a stack of origami paper and asks me to fold paper cranes with them, for peace, so that they would be set afloat down the river.
We stumbled over language yet again as I tried to learn how to fold one, my eyes still puffy but I was laughing with them and at myself a whole lot more now. I managed a to make a lumpy little crane (4 years of art school and not one origami lesson, dangit) and gave it to them, which they loved, and by this time I was joined by my friends from my class and we posed for pictures. It was a flurry of laughs, broken English, peace signs and cigarette smoke and I loved it.
I wish I had gotten some kind of email address or way to keep touch with them, because 8 years later I have never seen nor heard from them again. I wonder where they are now and if they realize how much of an impact they had on me that day.