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Obama had deep interest in Sadako's origami cranes during Hiroshima museum visit

Two origami cranes folded by President Obama are seen in this photo. (Mainichi)

Details have emerged about the visit made by United States President Barack Obama to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum on May 27 from an insider source, including his deep interest in origami cranes made by A-bomb victim Sadako Sasaki.

    The activities of Obama during the around 10 minutes he was in the museum were not made public, but according to a source, he showed great interest in the origami cranes of Sasaki and he spoke to children and handed them two origami cranes he had made himself. Obama had studied about Hiroshima beforehand and seemed to have a strong interest in peace.

    Kenji Shiga, head of the museum, and others say they were told ahead of time that Obama's visit would be short. When U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited in April this year, he was in the museum for about 50 minutes and viewed a few hundred different exhibits. For Obama's visit, museum officials say they prepared a few dozen exhibits carefully in the museum's first floor lobby, to "show the tragedy of the atomic bomb as much as possible."

    Three main categories of exhibits were prepared. One was possessions of victims that have been donated to the museum by their bereaved families, with a black-charred lunch box thought to have been among them, another was photos showing the damage from the A-bomb's heat rays, and the last was various origami cranes of Sasaki, which Obama showed great interest in.

    Obama reportedly asked several questions about the exhibits to his guide, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida. While in front of the origami cranes, he stooped down and looked at them carefully.

    Sasaki was exposed to radiation from the Hiroshima bomb and developed leukemia. For the eight months before she died at age 12 in 1955, she made origami cranes in her sickbed. In addition to around 70 origami cranes by Sasaki that the museum normally has on display, it prepared about 20 others it has for Obama's visit. The museum had been told that Obama wanted to see the cranes, and to make them easier to see it removed an acrylic case from around them.

    U.S. President Barack Obama, front center, leaves the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as he heads for the cenotaph for the A-bomb victims, on May 27, 2016. (Mainichi)

    In the museum, two school students from the city of Hiroshima welcomed Obama. Obama asked the two their names and ages, and when Nakajima Elementary School student Masatoshi Yano answered in English, Obama said, "Great!"

    A staff member accompanying Obama brought out a tray with two origami cranes folded by Obama on it. Obama gave one of them, light pink in color, to a girl student and the other, light blue, to Yano, a boy. The two students received the cranes with both hands. Yano said, "Mr. Obama seemed nice and friendly."

    The origami cranes by Obama were folded from traditional Japanese paper, and he smiled as he said that although he received a little help, he had made them. As he left he wrote a message in the visitors' book, and carefully put two more origami cranes above it.

    Shiga said, "Obama looked satisfied with his visit, but I wanted to show him around more. Back in America I want him to look at our catalog and learn about the damage from the A-bomb."

    The museum has taken the four origami cranes Obama left into its care, and is considering putting them on public exhibit together with Obama's message in the visitors' book. A representative for the museum said, "Amidst our space limits, we want to think of a way to safely put these items on display."

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