Japanese children all over the country create these little crane birds of paper in memory of Sadako Sasaki. Sadako and the paper crane birds became a symbol for world peace in Japan after her death in 1955.
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Straight from Wikipedia:
Sadako Sasaki (佐々木 禎子, Sasaki Sadako?, January 7, 1943 – October 25, 1955) was a Japanese girl who was two years old when the atomic bomb was dropped on August 6, 1945, near her home by Misasa Bridge in Hiroshima, Japan.
At the time of the explosion Sadako was at home, about one mile from Ground Zero. By November 1954, chicken pox had developed on her neck and behind her ears. Then in January 1955, purple spots had started to form on her legs. Subsequently, she was diagnosed with leukemia, which her mother referred to as "an atom bomb disease." She was hospitalized on February 21, 1955, and given, at the most, a year to live.
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 and folded it into a paper crane. At first Sadako didn't understand why Chizuko was doing this but then Chizuko retold the story about the paper cranes. Inspired by the crane, she started folding them herself, spurred on by the Japanese saying that one who folded 1,000 cranes was granted a wish. A popular version of the story is that she 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. This comes from the book Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes. An exhibit which appeared in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum stated that by the end of August, 1955, Sadako had achieved her goal and continued to fold more cranes.
Though she had plenty of free time during her days in the hospital to fold the cranes, she lacked paper. She would use medicine wrappings and whatever else she could scrounge up. This included going to other patients' rooms to ask to use the paper from their get-well presents. Chizuko would bring paper from school for Sadako to use.
During her time in the hospital her condition progressively worsened. Around mid-October her left leg became swollen and turned purple. After her family urged her to eat something, Sadako requested tea on rice and remarked "It's good." Those were her last words. With her family around her, Sadako died on the morning of October 25, 1955 at the age of 12.