I started folding origami cranes obsessively back in elementary school after reading the very sad story about Sadako, a Japanese girl who survived the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima only to develop leukemia and die while working to fold 1,000 cranes (a Japanese tradition states that the person who makes 1,000 cranes will get good luck or a wish from the gods). Since then, I'm sure I've made far more than a thousand, as I literally make them everywhere I go — restaurants in particular. My first tattoo was even an origami crane. We're talking nearly two decades of origami crane love on my behalf. My fiance has his own personal love for Japanese culture; he's been there numerous times and speaks the language fairly well. We're hoping to go there for our honeymoon.
As a result, I would love to use origami, and particularly origami cranes, in our wedding (origami crane bouquets for the bridal party and decorations for the ceremony), but I'm afraid that it might be cultural appropriation. Neither of us are Japanese; we just appreciate the culture. I've researched online and several websites say that it isn't — it's just paper-folding and a lucky thing in the culture — but I do know that it started out as a religious tradition (if only because paper was quite expensive in the past and these cranes were used as religious offerings), and I want to be sure that I remain cognizant and respectful of Japanese beliefs and culture.
If I do decide to use the cranes, I plan to include an explanation of the tradition of the origami crane, the specific story of Sadako, and both of our personal connections to Japan and the crane in our program and/or at a table on the side. We'll take up a collection for the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation and donate some of our own money as well.
Are these steps enough to demonstrate our deep love and appreciation of this tradition without being cultural appropriation? I would really love the perspective of the Offbeat Bride staff and readership on this. – Nellie
Hi, Nellie! As a longtime reader, I can tell you've already hit these related posts and are clearly well aware of what kind of territory cultural appropriation falls into. The issue with appropriating an aspect of someone's culture is that it often either demeans or lessens the meaning of the facet of that culture or it's done without clear knowledge of the origin. The worst case is that it's insulting, and the best is that it's merely being used for aesthetic purposes. Either way, it's uncool.
In your case, it's clear that you've ardently challenged yourself to overcome these hurdles.
When it comes to using a cultural element that isn't yours, but has also become a large part of your own identity through research and respectful admiration, there may indeed be ways to use the elements respectfully in your own traditions — with extreme caution.
It'd be nice to believe that the exploration of other cultures does not have to mean the exploitation of other cultures.
That said, when it comes to a hot topic like this, my best advice is: when in doubt, don't do it.