Paper cranes and fireworks

NOTE: I originally posted this on one of my (many) other blogs, but in retrospect I think it’s quite suited for here. While it’s specifically about two stories of East Asian origin, I had always intended for this blog to encompass my two favourite countries in East Asia as well, so here it is.

I enjoyed two bitterly sad true stories today. I love sad stories. They make you FEEL. They might depress you and make you feel like there’s no hope in the world, but they are also cathartic and I believe that they help you deal with sorrow in your own life and also to get un-spent pain and tears out of yourself. Sometimes though, they’re just beautiful stories and that’s it. And who wouldn’t rather appreciate a bitterly sad but beautiful story than some meaningless Hollywood drivel ?

Both stories were about young Japanese girls who die of leukaemia. One was a very old book called “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes” which has traditionally been given to primary school children around the world to teach them about the importance of compassion and empathy. I read it when I was very young and it’s always held special meaning to me, because both myself and my grandmother were born on August 6th, the anniversary of what we called “Hiroshima Day”, but what they call in Japan “Peace Day”. It’s only a very short story, because it’s intended for small children, but Sadako’s story is a very moving one.

Sadako’s story is that she was 2 years old when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, and she feels no ill effects for 9 years. Sadako is an excellent runner at school and her dream is to represent her school in a relay race, but she begins to suffer dizziness which she hides from everyone around her until one day she collapses at the end of a race and is rushed to hospital, only to be told she has leukaemia. Sadako’s friend reminds her of the legend of the paper crane, which says that if a person who is sick folds a thousand paper cranes, the gods will grant them their wish and make them well again. Sadako’s wish is to get better, so that she can run in her relay race.

Sadly, Sadako gets increasingly sick and she eventually dies in her sleep after having folded only 644 cranes. But her classmates finish the remaining 356 cranes and they are buried with her. In a way, Sadako does get her wish of living forever, because she has become an important symbol of Peace Day in Japan and schoolchildren all over Japan raised funds to build a monument to her, holding her first golden crane that her friend gave to her, which stands to this day in Hiroshima Peace Park, and on August the 6th, people from all over Japan come to lay paper cranes at the foot of her statue out of respect for both Sadako and all others who have died as a result of the two atomic bombs dropped during the war. Sadako, and the paper crane have become a symbol of peace and compassion the world over, and the paper crane is now often referred to as a “peace crane” in her honour. At the bottom of Sadako’s monument is a plaque with the inscription:

“This is our cry. This is our prayer. Peace in the world.”

The other story I enjoyed today was a much more recent one. It’s the 2010 true story about a sickly girl whose family move from Tokyo to Ojiya in Niigata Prefecture in Japan to help her with her asthma and the movie is called “おにいちゃんのハナビ” or “Big Brother’s Fireworks” but the English title is “Fireworks From the Heart”. In the movie, the girl, Hana spends time in hospital being treated for leukaemia, and while she is away, her brother Taro becomes a “hikkikomori”, or social recluse, never leaving his room. When she is released from hospital she literally breaks down his door to try and reach him and later has her friends fake a house fire in order to get him out of his room.

With Hana’s help, Taro eventually does leave his room and get a part time job, and even joins the local fireworks club, since Ojiya is famous for its fireworks event on September the 9th every year, and everyone from the age of 20 through to 60 contributes to sponsor a particular part of the fireworks display. Taro appreciates his sister’s love and compassion for him and does it all for her, but when she later dies (This is not a spoiler, the fact is revealed at the beginning of the movie) he decides to dedicate a special fireworks display for her, his magnum opus.

While Hana is not there to see the fireworks, she manages to be there for him in spirit by having a special message and a special gift arranged for him on his coming of age day and the day of the hanabi festival. Taro dedicates his display to her, but is most surprised when he realises that she has arranged a special display dedicated to him as well, and he is finally accepted openly by the club, his family, and the entire townsfolk. He finally fits in and is appreciated and honoured by the town. Whether all these details are literally true or whether artistic license has been used isn’t really important. The important thing is that Hana’s story is true, and her brother really did dedicate a special fireworks show to his sister to show how much he appreciated her love and support.

Both these stories are at the same time beautiful and bitterly sad, but both also leave your heart warm and give you a great deal of hope and faith in humanity. They may be sad stories that will make you cry, but they don’t just tear your heart out and stomp on it, they lift your heart up and warm it. Anyone can write a sad story about some young girl dying and bring tears to your eyes, but the fact is that both these stories are essentially true.

Whether Sadako really folded 644 cranes, or whether Hana really sent Taro a phone message after her own death doesn’t matter. The details aren’t important. Like my own blogs, they are stories. They may be strongly based on factual events, but a story has room for artistic license and if any has been used in the telling of these stories, we will most certainly forgive the authors because they are touching stories that give you true hope and both of them contain important symbols of hope and inspiration for others. Sadako’s cranes and Taro’s fireworks are both symbols of compassion and understanding that we can all take to heart and learn from.

If you haven’t read the famous book Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, I would suggest you consider ordering a copy. It will cost you less than $6 with free postage from The Book Depository in the UK and it is an excellent children’s book and while sad, it doesn’t traumatise children. You can find order it here. Personally it’s always carried special meaning for me due to me being born on Peace Day, so yes the story saddens me, but it also gives me great hope. If you want to learn more about Sadako, you can research her online. A good place to start would be her Wikipedia page here.

The movie Fireworks From the Heart (or “Big Brother’s Fireworks” as the story is more literally called) may be more difficult for you to obtain outside of Asia, but Amazon does carry it and it can be ordered here or you can read the IMDB page for it here.

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