Martha’s Vineyard students send 1,000 good wishes to Japan

On Monday, May 9 Chilmark School teacher Susan Larsen, accompanied by her daughter Olivia Larsen, traveled to Boston to present Japanese Consul General Takeshi Hikihara with 1,000 paper cranes “lovingly folded” by students and other members of the Martha’s Vineyard community and a check for $500.

The presentation was the culmination of an effort called “Martha’s Vineyard Senbazuru,” which started when Ms. Larsen began following the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on March 11.

An ancient Japanese legend promises that anyone who folds 1,000 origami cranes (Senbazuru) will be granted a wish, such as long life or recovery from illness or injury. On May 9 the cranes were handed to the Consul General as symbolic of Islanders’ and students’ wishes and prayers.

“Since we live and work on an Island, I thought this would be a meaningful way we can help the people of the island nation of Japan,” Ms. Larsen, who lived in Japan as a young girl, explained at the start of the campaign.

The Martha’s Vineyard Times supported the effort with a series of ads that described the campaign and were sized to be folded into an origami crane.

Ms. Larsen said Chilmark School students and their families, members of the Chilmark Library and her family folded the majority of the cranes. “I had a couple of thoughtful notes including a donation and crane from off-Island as well,” she wrote in an email followup to The Times. “The Consul General was very moved by the token and has offered to be a resource for cultural activities if need be.”

Ms. Larsen said of the effort, “It was spontaneous, organic and sincere. I believe the students came out with a new perspective on another culture and compassion for people that they will never meet; a random act of kindness.”

Peter Grilli, president of the Japan Society of Boston and a longtime seasonal Vineyarder, assisted with the introductions.

In a telephone conversation following Ms. Larsen’s visit, Mr. Grilli said that he has received many telephone calls from people asking for suggestions about what they could do to help the Japanese people. “In the Chilmark case, Susan called and didn’t ask me to suggest something. She came up with that idea all by herself.

“No contribution is too small in a situation like this,” Mr. Grilli said. “And I think that what Susan and the students did in raising $500 is absolutely wonderful. The fact that it is a Japanese custom to fold cranes as symbols of hope, the fact that American children would be doing this Japanese custom, that is meaningful too and I know the Japanese people will appreciate it. I was just so pleased.”