Folding 1,000 Wedding Paper Cranes

Japanese American Brides Make Wishes for a Long Marriage

Bride holding three colorful origami cranes.
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Depicted as strong yet graceful, the crane is a traditional symbol of love in Japan. Since the elegant bird mates for life, it is a popular animal motif in weddings. It is commonly imprinted on wedding invitations and embroidered onto the marriage kimono or obi to represent honor, fidelity, and harmony.

Japanese lore claims the crane is one of three holy creatures that can live for 1,000 years. After folding 1,000 origami paper cranes, one for each year of its life, the majestic "bird of happiness" is able to carry that person's prayers to heaven. Senbazuru has been an integral part of the culture for centuries, with the first instructional book, "How to Fold 1,000 Cranes," released in 1797. 

A Japanese American Tradition

Japanese Americans have adopted the Senbazuru into their wedding celebrations as a way to bestow blessings for a long, harmonious marriage. The custom is especially strong in Hawaii, where nearly 17 percent of the population is Japanese, making the community the second largest ethnic group on the tropical islands. According to local legend, making one more crane seals in the good fortune. This superstitious wedding ritual is similar to the American tradition of adding an extra candle on a birthday cake for good luck throughout the year. 

A Labor of Love

Although the crane is one of the easiest origami projects to learn, folding 1,000 miniature paper birds is a true labor of love. Professional crane makers spend at least two months on one project while novice brides report investing more than 100 hours over six months. It is important to plan early if you want to incorporate the 1,000 cranes into your wedding décor. 

The duty of making the birds was initially assigned to the father of the bride, who presented the bundle of cranes to the couple during the marriage ceremony. In time, it became the responsibility of the bride as a way to develop her patience and demonstrate her commitment to the marriage. Today, entire families gather to help assemble the birds, offering prayers and blessings as they work to impart even more good fortune on the couple's future. 

Modern couples also work together as partners to build their wedding cranes. Along the way, they learn how to communicate, support each other through a challenging task and strengthen their compatibility -- three qualities that are vital for a marriage to thrive. 

Constructing the Wedding Cranes

Any type of 3" x 3" sized paper can be used to construct the cranes. Many people cut their own squares from reams of paper, newspapers or magazines. Vendors sell pre-cut paper packets at a wide array of prices with many starting around $100. Professional crane folders can charge up to $2,000 for the entire project. 

The color of wealth, gold foil is the most popular paper choice although patterns and other solid colors are common. You can use just one color to complement your wedding theme or combine a cheerful array of rainbow-inspired cranes. Special meanings are assigned to specific shades: 

  • Red: Endless Love
  • White: Purity of Heart
  • Green: Long Health
  • Yellow: Overflowing Creativity
  • Blue: Unwavering Loyalty
  • Purple: Deepened Spirituality

After folding the cranes, the paper birds are assembled into regal works of art. These colorful pieces are usually strung together into long garlands are woven into intricate designs that are later framed.