I started this project of making 1,000 paper cranes, Senbazuru, as a message for the town of Namie, in Fukushima Japan. I lived and taught English for three years in Namie, and each year my students completed this project with me; the first two years as a tribute to Hiroshima, and the 3rd year, as a tribute to Washington DC after 9/11. Completing Senbazuru is considered a sign of good luck or good fortune, and it is said that your wish will be granted if you complete and assemble the 1,000 paper cranes. My wish was for the people of Namie to be healthy and return to their homes someday.
On March 11th, 2011 a massive earthquake hit off the northeast coast of Japan, lasting approximately four minutes, moving the entire country approximately 2.4 meters. Within the hour a massive tsunami barreled onto the coast reaching several miles inland, and approximately 40 feet high. This crippled the Fukushima-Daichi power plant, approximately seven miles from where I used to live. The threat of nuclear radiation forced the entire community of Namie, 22,000 people, to evacuate within 24 hours. Thousands of people suffered radiation poisoning, and homelessness. They were forced to grab what belongings they could carry and move to emergency shelters in gymnasiums across the country, unable to return for the foreseeable future.
When I shared this story with my students I tried to relate it to their lives so they would understand how catastrophic the situation was. Imagine an earthquake 50 times the size of what we felt last summer when DC was hit. Then a tsunami came and washed away half of the homes in Cambridge, flooded up to the 3rd floor of CRLS, and made it as far inland as Watertown. Then, a nuclear power plant located out at Logan melted down, and we were all forced to evacuate within hours, to relocate to Maine, Vermont, or New Hampshire, and maybe even Western Mass for the rest of our lives, unable to return to our homes or see our friends again. Our home town is now a wasteland, where no one is allowed to go, for fear of radiation poisoning. We may never be able to return to it either, as the people in Chernobyl are still missing their home 26 years later…
It is not just a news story or a piece of global history for me. It is very personal, and important to me, that people understand what happened, and know that for some, it isn’t over. Completing this project and sending the cranes to Namie helped me share the story with my students, and let the people of Namie know that we haven’t forgotten about their struggle, and that it isn’t just a news headline.
The following are websites that I used to teach my students how to make paper cranes using geometry, what Japan looked like before and after the tsunami, and what my community looks like now as a result of being abandoned…
A thank you video for those who donated funds to help Japan last year.
Short tutorial for folding paper cranes.
National Geographic photos of my town Namie & others after evacuating due to radiation.
Scroll bar graphics before/after photos of the effects of the tsunami, NY Times.