Text: Solveig Hansen, 2022
Sadako Sasaki was two when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. Ten years later she was diagnosed with leukemia, the “atomic bomb disease.” She died on October 25, 1955. Sadako was inspired by the Japanese saying that if you fold 1000 paper cranes, you are granted a wish. She folded more than 1000 with the wish to get well, but her wish didn’t come true. Some of the cranes were given to her classmates, and the rest were put in her coffin. The following year, her mother wrote this moving letter to her.
Come Back to Me Again, Sadako
A letter from Sadako’s mother, Fujiko Sasaki, 1956. Mrs. Sasaki passed away in 1998, at the age of 80.
Translated from Japanese by Kazuyo Yamane, an expert on peace museums and a former professor of peace studies.
No one is lovelier for a mother than the most miserable child. I have four children and I feel very sorry about Sadako most.
Already eight months have passed since Sadako died. She was really a miserable child. When she was born during the war, there was not enough food and she weighed only 2250 grams, but she was fine except when she got pneumonia when my husband was drafted.
You may laugh at me if I praise her (translator’s note: it is not Japanese custom to praise your family in front of others), but she was so considerate and thoughtful that I relied on her. She helped me a lot in every possible way. When I can’t go to sleep, I often remember my child who got worn out and died and wish I could hug her to my heart’s content only once more. In my dream, Sadako says to me, “Leave it to me, mom” and I wake up calling, “Sadako!” Then I realize it was a dream and I wonder how she is. For a while, I’m lost in my sad thoughts and join my hands in prayer before the tablet of the deceased.
I remember January 9th last year. She showed me a lymph node behind her ear saying “Mom, I think that my lymphatic glands were swollen a little.” I thought it. But when she had a check up at ABCC (Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission) in June 1954, she was told that she was fine, and she was really vigorous and everyone knew she loved doing exercises.
I once thought, “If she has to suffer like this, she should have died that morning on August 6th” (which was the day the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima), but I now think, “I wish she were alive and could be with me no matter how handicapped she was and how heavy her sickness was.”
I remember Sadako like I remember yesterday. What I remember most is the time when she was hospitalized. It was a rare and fine morning at the ground of Nobori-cho elementary school on February 10th, 1955. I remember vigorous children playing, jumping an elastic string. Sadako was enjoying playing it though I thought, “Sadako! You are sick with an atomic bomb disease called leukemia. Oh, no! Why you?” My husband and I took her to a hospital though she went to school happily with a bag as usual.
Sadako looked fine without knowing that her doctor said she would die in a few months. After he told us this, my husband and I cried hard near Sadako, who was sleeping peacefully. We were choked with tears and spent the night thinking, “Oh, we wish something could be done. We wish here was something to save her against this illness of atomic bomb disease.” I squeezed Sadako’s hands thinking, “If a medicine which could cure this incurable disease in the world existed in the world, then I’d like to borrow money even if it is ten million yen. Or, if possible, let me die for her…”
But we were so poor that we could barely live. I decided to do my best as a mother and love her as much as possible. But eight months after she has passed away, my heart is still choked with sorrow because I couldn’t do anything for her.
I appreciate her doctors’ efforts, caring for her day and night. When I heard that she would die soon, I bought silk fabric with a cherry blossom pattern and at night I made her a kimono. When I gave it to Sadako, she kept back her tears and said, “Mom, you did too much for me.” I asked her to put it on saying, “Sadako-chan, this is my wish, so please put this on.” She wiped her tears and wore it and looked very happy.
She knew we were poor though she didn’t say anything. She used to say, “Mom, I’m not a good daughter because you have to spend so much money for my sickness…” I’m sure she had many things she wanted to buy as a teenager such as new clothes, but she didn’t say anything to me and kept it to herself because she knew we were poor.
I coundn’t stop my tears when I saw Sadako wearing the kimono because she looked so nice. She watched me saying, “Why do you shed tears? You did too much for me…” We had a dream to buy kimono for her after the war because she had helped me so much. Our dream was realized finally.
One of her classmates, Miss Chizuko Hamamoto, wrote her reminiscence of Sadako as follows; Sadako looked more beautiful in her kimono because her swollen lymph nodes made her appear as if she gained weight. She wore her beautiful kimono with cherry blossom patterns today. When I said, “You look nicer with kimono than a dress, Miss Sasaki,” she said, “Is that so? Isn’t it nice?” But she looked sad. I don’t know how Sadako felt about her friend’s words, but the kimono became a keepsake.
She believed in a saying that if you fold a thousand cranes, you’d get over your sickness. She folded paper cranes carefully, one by one using a piece of paper of advertisement, medicine and wrapping. Her eyes were shining while she was folding the cranes, showing she wanted to survive by all means. When my husband and I went to see her, she said, “Dad, I’ve folded just four hundred paper cranes.” He was considerate to her, keeping back his tears.
“How hard her fate is, though she wants to live so much! How pitiful she is though she wants to live so much! Sadako, I want to do something for you by all means,” I thought, but there was nothing I could do and I thought tenderly of her.
Looking at the folded cranes which Sadako made innocently on her bed, I almost cried my heart out thinking of Sadako’s feelings. I wondered why she was born.
I gave folded cranes that she made sincerely to her classmates and put the rest of them in her coffin as well as flowers so that she could bring them to the next world.
Why didn’t you thousand cranes sing? Why didn’t they fly?
Sadako, please forgive me. How hard and uncomfortable it was every day. I wonder if you live in comfort in the heaven.
Her classmates, the members of Association of Kokeshi, come every 25th, and are kind to us. I cried reading letters of reminiscence of Sadako which will be published in a book the other day. I really respect children for their strong love and wish for peace because they made a plan to create a Statue of an Atomic Bomb Child with Sadako’s death as a start.
Sadako! The peace you wished for will be realized in the form of a statue of An Atomic Bomb Child, with the help of your classmates such as Masako and Chou as well as children from Hokkaidou in the north to Kyushu in the south. The statue of An Atomic Child will be built as the symbol of peace on the lawn near Atomic Bomb Memorial Tower in Nakajima where Sada-chan went with father!
Sadako! Listen! Can you hear your friends’ strong voices for peace? As the mother of a child who passed away when she was only twelve and a half years old, I’d like to appeal to mothers not only in Japan but all over the world that I don’t want such a horrible thing to happen again. So many children are looking for peace.