What Are Origami Cranes?

Tara Barnett

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.

Scrapbook paper cut into a square can be used to make origami cranes.
Scrapbook paper cut into a square can be used to make origami cranes.

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.

As a baby gift, strings of 1000 origami cranes are supposed to bring 1000 years of happiness to the child.
As a baby gift, strings of 1000 origami cranes are supposed to bring 1000 years of happiness to the child.

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.

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Discussion Comments


It's nice to hear that after something terrible like the events of Hiroshima, something positive came out of it: a widely recognized symbol of peace. The story of Sadako is simply moving; may she rest in peace.


My students are fourth graders, and they have made strands of 1,000 cranes to send to schools that are rebuilding after the March 11 earthquakes and tsunami. As a class of 27 kids they have made almost 2,000 themselves. Then they have gotten other classes and schools to join in. We will have a final count in one week. We are so excited! I am very proud of them.


Does anyone know of any really good books that show how to make an origami crane?

My daughter has recently gotten the idea in her head that she would like to make some origami animals, and I know the paper crane is one of the most popular. She is a total beginner so it would have to be a very easy origami crane for her to tackle it.

Also, for beginners what is the best kind of origami paper to work with? I have seen it in all sorts of sizes and am wondering if bigger is better for a beginner? I really want to start her out easy.


When I was in high school one of the students passed away and our teacher taught us how to make an origami crane so our class could make 1,000 for his memorial ceremony. It took our class about a week to make all of the origami paper cranes once we had the basics down and we felt it really helped us to deal with his death.

His family really loved the strands of paper cranes we presented them with, and thought it was wonderful that we had spent so much time on the project. I remember one of the students in our class also passed around a card that explained the cranes significance which we all signed.


On the sci fi show Eureka, there was an episode where candidates for a space mission had to fold paper cranes, I think 100, as a test of patience and skill in one of their examinations; additionally, they were in a small room with several other people and little air. It was an interesting concept, but it made sense to me even as a real world idea. People under pressure need to be able to still do things delicately, such as folding paper cranes.


I read a book about origami cranes' meaning when I was younger. I have read a few stories about it now, but I remember being a kid and thinking that taking the time to fold that many cranes, and being that good at it, was truly amazing.

I still do, and think it is a great message of piece when people do that, or any other similar action- such as knitting a 1000 hats for children, which I've also heard of. They're part symbol, part useful thing to help someone, and I'm impressed by people who can take the time.


I tried to learn to do origami as a kid, and the most complex things I could make were cups and frogs. Not everyone can do it, even with books. I loved the origami paper, though, and wish it was less expensive; I'd use it all the time just to draw or cut thing out of for decorations.

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