2021 / Sister city organization creates peace crane exchange project with students in Santa Barbara and Toba, Japan

Toba’s junior high school students hold paper cranes for Santa Barbara. (Photo courtesy of Santa Barbara Toba Sister City Organization)

Santa Barbara’s students are folding paper cranes to send to Toba. (Photo courtesy of the Santa Barbara Toba Sister City Organization)

This article is included in the Weekly Cultural News, Oct. 25-31, 2021 issue.


At the end of September 2021, students from nine Toba elementary and junior high schools, including two island schools off Toba’s shore, in Mie Prefecture, Japan, sent colorful Japanese paper origami cranes to students of Santa Barbara in California with greetings and messages, inviting pen pal possibilities. On October 7, 1,005 pieces of paper cranes arrived at Santa Barbara.

Santa Barbara and Toba have been Sister Cities for over 50 years. Their yearly student exchanges were halted during the COVID pandemic in 2020 and 2021, but since June 2021, a new exchange project has just provided an opportunity for over 500 students from each city to send each other messages of peace and friendship.

In Santa Barbara, the students learned to make paper cranes and wrote their names and messages on the birds’ wings to be sent back to the Toba Schools.

Members of the Santa Barbara Toba Sister City Organization identified 4th to 6th grade classes at elementary schools in Santa Barbara who wanted to join the project, and Sue DiCicco, founder of the Peace Crane Project itself, added 2 junior high school classes, as well.

One Santa Barbara teacher wrote, “We have a corner of the classroom now where cranes and other origami designs are being folded and hung from the ceiling.”

The origami trainers for local Santa Barbara students were: Sue DiCicco, Lisa Ishikawa, Takako Wakita, Paula Steinmetz, Linda Mathews, and Sally Hamilton.

The Peace Crane Project itself was created in 2013 by Ms. DiCicco, Santa Barbara resident and co-author of The Complete Story of Sadako Sasaki.  The book is the true story of a young girl who suffered, and years later died from atomic radiation leukemia after the bombing of Hiroshima in 1945.

Sadako vowed to fold 1000 cranes in a prayer for peace, after an ancient Japanese tradition, and her efforts and her friends’ involvement were publicized as a way to teach students about the war and nuclear weapons. The origami crane is a symbol of peace, friendship, and hope.

Sue DiCicco created the Peace Crane Project in 2013, and now more than 2 million children around the world have participated, meeting other students, learning geography, practicing their writing, and building an appreciation for the people and cultures of the world.

The information of the Peace Crane Project is available at www.peacecraneproject.org

For contact Sue DiCicco, send email to sue@peacecraneproject.org

The Santa Barbara Toba Sister City Organization hopes that some of the Santa Barbara students between the ages of 13-15 will apply to be exchange students to Toba when the program resumes after COVID restrictions end.

For more information about exchange students to Toba, send email to wakita964@gmail.com

The Sister City Organization also hopes that the current Peace Crane Project will result in pen pal or other personal relationships between Santa Barbara and Toba students.