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Legendary Japanese papermaker creates 'peace' postcards from Nagasaki's paper cranes

A postcard made from cranes from the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum is seen embossed with a smiley face. (Mainichi/Mio Ikeda)

SAGA -- An established Japanese papermaker in this southwestern Japan city has started making postcards from strings of origami cranes that were donated to the atomic bomb museum in neighboring Nagasaki Prefecture as symbols of peace.

The papermaker, Nao Tesuki Washi, is Saga Prefecture's sole manufacturer of Nao Washi Japanese paper, which has been made in the city of Saga for roughly three centuries. The seventh-generation head of the workshop, 29-year-old Gen Taniguchi, hopes that his new "peace letter" postcards made from origami cranes donated to the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum will carry on the hopes for peace embodied in the paper cranes.

The museum receives many 1,000-crane origami strings, known in Japanese as "senbazuru," from visiting schoolchildren and clubs for the elderly, as symbols of peace. According to the Nagasaki Municipal Government, about 760 kilograms of the paper cranes were donated in fiscal 2018. The cranes go on display at the museum for about a year. Since 2012, the museum has passed them on to external organizations that make business cards and notebooks out of them.

Origami cranes from the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum are pictured together with postcards made from the cranes. (Mainichi/Mio Ikeda)

In December 2019, Nao Tesuki Washi was approached by the incorporated body Konpura-sha, which makes incense sticks and other items from the paper cranes, asking the workshop if it could use the cranes.

Taniguchi recalled the words of his grandfather, who talked about the mushroom cloud forming from the bombing of Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945, and the sight of many bloodied people arriving at Saga Station from Nagasaki. He decided he had to do something to present an objective view of a peaceful Japan that people enjoy today, and accepted a box of the cranes. He eventually settled on the idea of making postcards from them, thinking to himself, "I'll be able to widely convey various people's thoughts on peace that are infused into the cranes."

The folded cranes make up about 90% of the material in the postcards. In his latest batch, Taniguchi made 100 cards, each embossed with the smiley face design attributed to the late American graphic artist Harvey Ball.

Gen Taniguchi (Mainichi/Mio Ikeda)

"By matching an American symbol for peace with a Japanese one, I hope my wish for peace will spread to people of the United States and across the world," Taniguchi says.

The postcards are being sold at the Nagasaki Prefectural Art Museum and hotels in the city of Nagasaki, and will also be available at the workshop from the end of March.

"It's getting harder to hear the live voices of those who experienced the war. I want people to take the postcards in their hands, and hope that this creates an opportunity for them to think about peace," he said.

(Japanese original by Mio Ikeda, Saga Bureau)

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