Japan – Ju Ichi

August 29, 2007

When: August 28th
Where: World Peace Museum, Hiroshima

If you’ve spent time with me, you’ve probably noticed that I habitually fold paper cranes out of brochures, napkins, bus tickets, and pretty much anything foldable in my hands when I have time to kill.

When I was six years old, I met a guy named Floyd Schmoe.  I remember him shuffling around his apartment when we visited him in Seattle, smiling and patiently telling me about the little carvings, photos, and trinkets I found on his bookshelves and tables.  At the end of the visit, he told me the story of Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, and showed me how to fold one.

I saw him a few more times while I was growing up, the last time shortly after he turned 100.  I was 15 or 16, and again he was telling me stories about the little carvings, photos, and trinkets he had around his apartment.  One in particular jumped out at me: a small red and gold medal, which, he explained, meant that he was recognized as a sacred treasure and honorary citizen of Japan.  It had something to do with his work in Hiroshima after the bomb was dropped, but we didn’t get into the details.

Today, I visited the World Peace Park in Hiroshima.  We listened to a hibakusha, a survivor of the bomb, recount his story of the detonation, the aftermath, and his dedication to bringing peace to the world.  We visited the statue of Sadako, flocked by hundreds of thousands of paper cranes.  We walked around the A-bomb dome, and the peach torch, and through the museum.

It’s difficult to quantify the experience of walking through the museum.  It is a no-holds-barred history and exhibition of the city, and of the horrors of atomic warfare.  The rooms are filled with glass cases, containing the shredded uniforms of school children; photographs of men and women dying in makeshift hospitals, skin charred black and hanging from their arms; shadows of people, burnt into granite facades; blobs of pottery and roof tiles, fused together; victims stricken with radiation poisoning, cancers, and leukemia; walls stained black from the poisonous rain that followed the explosion.

At the end of the exhibition there was a chance to record your thoughts in the museum’s permanent collection.  They also displayed photographs and messages from notable people, like Mother Theresa, Mikhial Gorbachev, Jimmy Carter .. and Floyd Schmoe.  There he was, with his own photograph and everything, the funny old guy who showed a little kid how to fold paper cranes twenty years ago, but this time wearing a tragic expression, standing straight in a suit, and carrying a wreath to an unseen memorial.

We closed the day with a visit to a special exhibition about foreigners who came to help rebuild Hiroshima.  When we entered the hall, we were greeted by a two meter photo of a smiling man building a house — it was Floyd.  There was a wall covered in photos, letters, and descriptions of the work he did, designing and building homes for the survivors.  A movie he shot was was playing in a continuous loop.  A modeled floor plan of one of the homes he built was set up in the corner.

Every time I’ve folded a crane I’ve thought of Floyd, and of Sadako.  Over the last twenty years I’ve folded thousands of cranes, leaving them around the house, at the office, with my tip at restaurants, on bus seats, in bars, and on my travels all over the world.  Little messages of peace and thanks, for anyone who happens to pick them up.

Thanks, Floyd.

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