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The Story of Sadako Sasaki

A young Japanese girl wearing all white standing in front of a hospital
Sadako at the hospital

COPYRIGHT: SADAKO LEGACY NP0

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

Sadako Sasaki was two years old on August 6th, 1945 when pilot Paul Tibbetts and crew of the United States Air Force flew a B-29 bomber airplane over the city of Hiroshima, Japan. Unlike the many other B-29 bombers that had flown over Hiroshima the past days and weeks, this aircraft, the Enola Gay, was much different than previous B-29 bombers. The Enola Gay carried an atomic bomb named “Little Boy.” By order of President Harry S. Truman, Tibbetts and his crew dropped one of the most powerful bombs ever created over the city of Hiroshima, Japan and a population of approximately 350,000 people. The story of Sadako Sasaki, a young girl who lived through the bombing of Hiroshima, and eventually died from leukemia, is just one of many stories from Hiroshima on August 6th, 1945. Yet, Sadako’s story still resonates with many people today.

Sadako and family lived a little over one mile from the bomb’s hypocenter. A blinding white light flashed through the city, and a huge boom was heard miles away when Little Boy exploded over Sadako’s hometown. Immediately, fires broke out all over the city and radioactive black rain began to fall from the sky. Sadako, with her mother and brother, escaped the fires. Sadako’s grandmother was leaving with Sadako and her family when she turned back to retrieve some family heirlooms from their home. She was never seen again. Shigeo, Sadako’s father, was not in Hiroshima at the time of the bombing. Shigeo reunited with his family after the bombing, and Sadako and her family returned to Hiroshima to rebuild their lives.

Like many others living in Hiroshima following World War II, the Sasaki family struggled with sickness, financial hardship, food scarcity, and the uncertainty of their families’ future. They mourned the loss of their grandmother, neighbors, and home. The Sasaki family would also grieve for Sadako when she became sick with leukemia, called atomic bomb disease by some in Hiroshima because the cancer was likely caused by the radioactive black rain that fell on Sadako and Hiroshima on the day of the bombing.
Black and white photo of origami cranes on table
Origami cranes

COPYRIGHT ELLIE REIMER

By all appearances, Sadako was a happy and healthy child. She was known to be a fast runner and popular with her classmates. That is why it came as such a surprise when at the age of twelve, Sadako began to show symptoms of leukemia, and had to be admitted into the hospital. While in the hospital, Sadako remained optimistic and resilient. Even though Sadako was sick, she continued to bring happiness and cheer to her family and friends. Sadako’s was very happy the day the Red Cross Youth Club gave Sadako and the other children staying in the hospital origami cranes. Origami cranes were thought to help people who were sick become well again. Sadako’s father Shigeo was visiting her at the hospital when she asked him, “Why did they send us origami cranes, father?” Shigeo answered Sadako’s question by telling her the Japanese legend of the crane. Japanese folklore says that a crane can live for a thousand years, and a person who folds an origami crane for each year of a crane’s life will have their wish granted. The story of the origami cranes inspired Sadako. She had a new passion and purpose to have her wish of being well again granted by folding one thousand origami cranes. Sadako began collecting hundreds of pieces of paper for her cranes.

Sadako’s soon filled her room with hundreds of colorful origami cranes of all different sizes. After folding her thousandth crane, Sadako made her wish, to be well again. Sadly, Sadako’s wish did not come true. She remained ill but did not lose her faith in origami cranes. Sadako began folding more cranes for her father’s debt to be forgiven, her new wish. Sadako continued to fold cranes, some as small as a grain of rice, until her last moments. Surrounded by family, with 1,300 origami cranes in her room and hanging overhead, Sadako passed away at the age of twelve.
Color photo of statue of child holding origami crane
Children's Peace Monument in Peace Park, Hiroshima, Japan

Copyright: Sadako Legacy NPO

When Sadako first realized how sick she was she had many thoughts and questions. She worried about her family, and if people would remember her. Sadako asked herself, “How can I make the world a better place while I’m still alive?” She wanted to leave the world a more peaceful place and she shared those thoughts and feeling with her friends and family. Though Sadako did not know her impact on the world when she died, Sadako did make the world a better place. Sadako’s resilient spirit and her origami cranes inspired her friends and classmates to raise money for a monument for Sadako and the children who died as a result of atomic bombings. Since 1958, thousands have visited the statue of Sadako in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. Sadako’s figure lifts a large paper crane overhead. Inscribed at the foot of Sadako’s statue is a plaque that reads, “This is our cry. This is our prayer. Peace in the world."

Learn more about Sadako

These videos share more about the life and legacy of Sadako. The second video has the same content and includes audio description narration.
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Duration:
10 minutes, 19 seconds

Two-year old Sadako Sasaki was at home in Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6, 1945, when the US dropped the Little Boy atomic bomb over her city. Sadako survived the bombing of Hiroshima but passed away ten years later from leukemia. Japanese folklore says that a crane can live for a thousand years, and a person who folds an origami crane for each year of a crane’s life will have their wish granted. Sadako folded 1,300 origami cranes shortly before her death in 1955.

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Duration:
17 minutes, 34 seconds

Two-year old Sadako Sasaki was at home in Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6, 1945, when the US dropped the Little Boy atomic bomb over her city. Sadako survived the bombing of Hiroshima but passed away ten years later from leukemia. Japanese folklore says that a crane can live for a thousand years, and a person who folds an origami crane for each year of a crane’s life will have their wish granted. Sadako folded 1,300 origami cranes shortly before her death in 1955.

Manhattan Project National Historical Park

Last updated: August 2, 2023