Children’s Peace Monument paper-crane donations decline sharply, affecting projects that use the recycled paper

by Michiko Tanaka and Nami Ishishita, Staff Writers

The number of paper cranes donated to the Children’s Peace Monument (Naka Ward, Hiroshima City) from Japan and overseas has declined sharply, as the coronavirus pandemic has reduced the numbers of tourists and students on school excursions visiting Hiroshima. The Hiroshima City government distributes the paper cranes gratis to businesses that use them as a way to convey the desire for peace and abolition of nuclear weapons. Companies that process the paper cranes into commercial products are increasingly concerned about the decreased supply.

The Children’s Peace Monument in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park was modeled after Sadako Sasaki, a young Japanese girl who survived the atomic bombing when she was two-years old only to die from leukemia 10 years later. Booths set up around the monument are usually full of paper cranes brought by students in this season of school excursions. Now, however, the booths’ supply of paper cranes is only about half that of typical years.

About 10 tons of origami cranes are donated at the booths annually. The city, which usually collects the cranes from the booths 15 times a year, last collected the cranes on May 1. “We normally collect paper cranes in June, but we’ve decided to postpone doing so for now,” said the city’s Peace Promotion Division.

The city has been providing the paper cranes free of charge to businesses and individuals interested in making use of them since fiscal 2012. Some of the organizations turn the recycled paper cranes into retail products such as business cards or origami paper.

The trend of developing new products using recycled paper cranes has grown in recent years, leading to more cranes being distributed to such organizations than newly taken in through donations. The volume of paper cranes stored by the city was 23.1 tons as of the end of fiscal 2019, dropping to one-quarter the amount at the time the project first began (97.4 tons).

For that reason, Hiroshima City decided to limit its distribution of the paper cranes this fiscal year for the first time, giving away only the same volume of paper cranes received during the previous fiscal year. To make matters worse, the coronavirus pandemic has caused a further marked decrease in donated paper cranes. “If this trend continues, we might have to further reduce distribution next fiscal year,” remarked a concerned Peace Promotion Division.

The situation is having a significant impact on the companies that use the recycled paper cranes. Tomoe, a paper manufacturer in Hiroshima’s Asaminami Ward, and three other firms in and around the city work jointly on a project utilizing the cranes. This fiscal year, only 2.3 tons, a figure slightly less than 20 percent of the distribution from the previous year, will be allotted to the group.

The partnership of companies collaborate with several training facilities for people with disabilities to create origami paper from recycled paper cranes that is then sold to students who visit Hiroshima on school trips. However, the operation has been halted this fiscal year due to the decreased supply and a lack of projected demand with the sharp decline in number of students coming to the city.

Akira Takamaru, 77, president of Tomoe, said, “It’s too bad we had to suspend the project, which was taking off as a way to spread a message of peace.” Mr. Takamaru added, “If only we could have given the facilities a bit more work. All we can do is pray that the pandemic ends and things return to normal.”


Making use of paper cranes sent to Hiroshima City
Hiroshima City receives paper cranes from Japan and overseas mostly as donations to the Children’s Peace Monument in the city’s Naka Ward. The accumulated paper cranes were incinerated until fiscal 2001, but the city started to store them in fiscal 2002. In fiscal 2012, the current mayor altered his predecessor’s policy and allowed the cranes to be distributed free of charge to individuals and groups hoping to use them. In addition to being displayed at peace events in Japan and other countries, more and more paper cranes are being reprocessed into recycled paper to make commercial products such as business cards, origami paper, and postcards.

(Originally published on June 16, 2020)