Origami cranes, sometimes called paper cranes, are small traditional figures made out of squares of paper that have been folded to take three-dimensional forms. Cranes of this type look like the birds they are meant to resemble, but they are also themselves symbolic because of their long history and legendary uses. In Japanese legends, making or giving 1,000 paper cranes holds great significance, both for traditional reasons and because of the association of this act with peace after Hiroshima. Most origami cranes are folded using the same traditional pattern, but there are other ways to make figures resembling cranes using origami techniques.
A crane of this type begins with a bird base and involves several other folds to create a body, a folded head, two wings, and a long tail. This basic figure, which lacks legs or other distinguishing marks, suggests the form of a crane. Origami cranes are very well known even outside of origami enthusiasts, and most people recognize that this basic figure is meant to represent a crane.
Folding cranes is relatively quick and straightforward, and with a little practice most people can fold a crane out of very small paper. This is important when working on projects of 1,000 cranes, because the cranes are traditionally strung on strings with as many as 40 cranes on every string. Using large paper makes the strands of cranes heavier, which can result in broken strings. There are other ways to present 1,000 cranes, but vertical strands in which the figures sit one on top of another are the most common.
Traditionally, strings of 1,000 origami cranes would be given as gifts or hung around a home for luck. When given at weddings, the strands are meant to bring the couple 1,000 years of happiness. For newborns, the significance is much the same. Some versions of these tales claim that anyone who folds 1,000 cranes will be granted a wish. In legends, the crane is thought to live for 1,000 years, which is likely the reason folding this many cranes gained significance.
More recent events have also added to the popular significance of origami cranes. After the Hiroshima bombing, a young girl named Sadako Sasaki folded paper cranes while she was dying of leukemia in a hospital. When she died, she was memorialized in Hiroshima, and since her death children have brought strings of cranes to her statue on the anniversary of the bombing. This is one of the primary reasons the paper crane is associated with world peace.