A Japanese artist who always considered the origami crane to be tightly linked to war and peace is now giving a new meaning to it by incorporating thousands of them into his works of art. Tiny, hand-folded paper cranes take on new life as “leaves” on the branches of bonsai-style tree sculptures, inviting viewers into a state of contemplation.
For Tokyo-based artist Naoki Onogawa, 30, origami has been a passion since childhood.
“Among the forms you can find in origami, the origami crane stands apart as a particularly famous, traditional form of the art,” Onogawa told The Epoch Times via email. “Within the cranes, I see a central point of reference for myself, together with a special ‘something,’ a special quality.”
Onogawa begins each artwork by creating an asymmetric stem before adorning its branches with between 500 and 1,000 expertly folded, monochromatic paper cranes, each no bigger than a fingertip. Every piece of artwork takes around one month to complete.
Onogawa, who studied at Japan’s Ochabi Institute, claims his main challenges are to create art that pulls at his heartstrings and is as close to “perfect” as he can muster. “Also, imaging people’s reactions when they stand in front of my artwork is one of my joys to create the artworks, too,” he said.
The artist developed his unique relationship with the paper crane after the Great East Japan Earthquake. He had traveled to the city of Rikuzen Takata, in Iwate Prefecture, a region that was impacted by the disaster, in April the following year to walk around and speak with the locals. He found complete devastation everywhere.
“I found myself in terror of how powerless we humans are in the face of nature’s wonder,” Onogawa said, “yet at the same time, I felt empowered by the power of life, vitality, that shone so brightly in the aftermath of its wrath … [and] from time to time, we also live in harmony with nature and flourish with its blessings.”
During this period of time, Onogawa came across a bundle of around 1,000 paper cranes placed at the wreckage of a local school building, swept away by the tsunami. It was the first time he had seen the crane used as a symbol of prayer, rather than of war and peace.
“For some reason, I felt like it made sense for them to be there,” he explained. “It was like witnessing the result of a desolate ritual where people channeled their unsettled feelings into these cranes … I struggle to find the words to describe it, but I think that maybe the cranes that I fold now come from that place of solemn prayer.”
Since the end of the Second World War, mourners have shipped tons of paper cranes to Hiroshima and Nagasaki every single year. Yet for Onogawa, folding origami cranes for the sake of peace is a “peculiar custom.”
“What strikes me as odd about these paper cranes is how they function as a vessel for people’s unrequited emotions,” he explained. “I have great reverence for the act of praying for peace. But in this dynamic, I felt that there was nothing there that connects me to the cranes and that the cranes are, at least in my mind, not where they were supposed to be.”
Thus, Onogawa’s art is created with the intention of giving origami cranes “a place to belong.” He is hoping and planning to exhibit overseas, and meanwhile, shares his art with the world on Instagram.
“I believe that each person familiar with cranes has their own history with them … but it is my hope that my works allow for new dialogue,” he explained to The Epoch Times. “Through that dialogue, it is my hope that there is something, whatever it is, that stirs the heart of the viewer.”