Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Sadako's peace crane

Click on image to see it larger.

Sometimes we make decisions that will impact more people than we can imagine. So it is with my decision last March to celebrate turning 70 by getting a new tattoo.

I had gotten my first tattoo right before my 64th birthday: an armband with a picture of the earth surrounded by green vines. It symbolized my belief that we are all members of one family across the globe.

I only get tattoos of images that have deep meaning to me. Nothing had come to mind since the earth tattoo, that is until I saw Mikey Vigilante's table at this year's Motor City Tattoo Expo.

I was there photographing this amazing event where tattoo artists from around the country and tattooed people from the Midwest gather to share their love of this form of body art and to create new art on the spot. It is like a kid in a candy store for a photographer like me who loves taking pictures of people in all their diversity.

Mikey Vigilante's space had dozens of folded paper origami peace cranes on the table and on the wall behind him was a large black-and-white drawing of Sadako with arms outstretched and Hiroshima in the background. Her arms cradled a large origami peace crane that then became a flock of real cranes that flew through the dark grey mushroom cloud into a clear sky. Mikey's tattoo business was called the Paper Crane Studio. I immediately recognized him as a brother who shared my commitment to peace.

The story of Sadako and her thousand peace cranes has meant a great deal to me over my decades as a global peace activist.

Sadako Sasaki was two years old when the United States dropped the atomic bomb one mile from her home in Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945. She survived the bomb but nine years later began developing symptoms of radiation-induced leukemia. In 1955, Sadako was hospitalized and given, at the most, one year to live.

According to Wikipedia,

"On August 3, 1955, Sadako's best friend Chizuko Hamamoto came to the hospital to visit, and cut a golden piece of paper into a square to fold it into a paper crane, in reference to the ancient Japanese story that promises that anyone who folds a thousand origami cranes will be granted a wish by the Gods. A popular version of the story is that Sadako fell short of her goal of folding 1,000 cranes, having folded only 644 before her death, and that her friends completed the 1,000 and buried them all with her."

Since her death on October 25, 1955, Sadako and her Thousand Cranes have symbolized the terrible impact of nuclear war and an international cry for peace. There is a statue of Sadako and the cranes at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and every year Sadako is remembered when people all over Japan celebrate August 6 as the annual Peace Day.

So it happened that, in March 2012, I was finally able to commemorate Sadako in my own way: with a tattoo of an origami peace crane on my forearm.

Click on image to see it larger.

Now here's where the unexpected impact of this decision comes in...

Tomorrow, July 25, 2012, the first image I posted here will be one of seven self portraits from my Falling Into Place project to be published in the Picture Power section of the August 1st issue of Newsweek Japan! So people all over Japan will see how Sadako's story is known and cared about by people across the globe, even one 70 year-old American woman who has never been to their country.

May we never again experience the horrors of nuclear war. And may we never forget what my other tattoo shows: We are all members of one human family here on earth. War is never the answer. Peace is our common destiny.