Japanese housewife and local school children in U.S. send paper cranes to President Obama

by Katsumi Umehara, Staff Writer

One thousand paper cranes made by Kaori Nakai, 38, a Japanese housewife living in California, together with local school children, will be delivered to President Obama through a local congressman. Ms. Nakai’s parents in Hiroshima are happy to see the local newspaper coverage of the efforts of their daughter and the children.

Ms. Nakai is originally from Sera Town in Hiroshima Prefecture and has been living in a suburb of San Francisco for 11 years with her family of five. She taught the students at the school where her 11-year-old son attends how to make paper cranes. The news that the paper cranes are intended as a gift for President Obama was reported in two local newspapers, The Sun and The Cupertino Courier, on the day following the inaugural ceremony of January 20.

In the article, Ms. Nakai expressed her desire to deliver the paper cranes, a symbol of peace, to Mr. Obama. “The United States of America is the most influential country in the world,” she said. “I think that the president of the United States is therefore key to helping usher in world peace.” Later, Mike Honda, a Japanese-American congressman from California, reportedly offered to help deliver the cranes to Mr. Obama.

Yoshie Fujitani, 92, Ms. Nakai’s maternal grandmother, went into the city center soon after the atomic bomb exploded over Hiroshima to search for her brother-in-law and niece. Both relatives, though, died in the bombing and Ms. Fujitani herself was exposed to residual radiation. During her childhood, Ms. Nakai heard about the horrific conditions wrought by the atomic bomb from her grandmother and came to recognize the importance of peace.

Last December, Ms. Nakai suggested folding the thousand paper cranes in order to send a message of peace to the new president. This soon became a project involving the entire school with 300 students and parents learning how to make cranes from Ms. Nakai. The 1,000 red, white, and blue paper cranes were then assembled into the form of the U.S. flag.

Ms. Nakai sent the newspaper articles on the paper cranes to her parents and her father, Masatoshi Ishihara, 73, translated them into Japanese. Her mother, Akiko, 67, is touched by the whole effort, remarking, “My mother’s spirit must have been passed on to her grandchild.”

(Originally published on February 3, 2009)