Photo depicting Hisao Inagaki in a black suit folding paper cranes at an office table with a shoji screen behind him. The table is covered with folded paper cranes.

Consul General of Japan Hisao Inagaki Spreads Joy and Culture With Paper Cranes

by Amanda Ong

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It’s not often a consul general of Japan is also a social media phenomenon, but Consul General of Japan in Seattle Hisao Inagaki has received quite a bit of attention for his personal Instagram account featuring paper cranes. Since moving to Seattle in 2020, he has folded one origami paper crane, or “orizuru,” every day to pray for everyone’s health and peace during the pandemic, and he posts a video of the cranes every day on Instagram.

He recently reached 1,000 cranes, and he has only missed one day, because of an eye surgery. Many of his 18,000 followers are extremely devoted, even noticing when he had an arm injury as he switched which arm he used to hold the paper cranes, and wishing him well. He is also active on Facebook and YouTube, promoting Japanese culture across Seattle.

“While everyone was having a hard time due to the pandemic, I wanted to use my social media to send a message to everyone, expressing my sympathies by folding paper cranes every day,” Inagaki said in an interview with the South Seattle Emerald. “In Japan, the crane is a symbol of longevity. Origami cranes are often folded and given to the sick and injured, wishing for their quick recovery.”

Photo depicting Hisao Inagaki in a black suit with a red waistcoat seated at an office table filled with paper cranes and a bowl full of paper cranes.
Inagaki recently passed the 1,000th day of making, and posting, his daily paper crane. (Photo courtesy of Consulate-General of Japan in Seattle.)

The cranes inevitably recall the story of a 12-year-old girl named Sadako Sasaki, who died of leukemia in Hiroshima in 1955, 10 years after the nuclear bombing. She folded 1,000 paper cranes in the hopes of bringing good health, and millions of paper cranes have been sent to Hiroshima in her honor in the years since.

The cranes are a part of the consul’s much larger work in culturally connecting Seattle and Japan. Beyond processing visas and passports, Inagaki works as an ambassador of Japanese culture. He helps plan events, like the Seattle Cherry Blossom and Japanese Cultural Festival and the Japan Fair in Bellevue, as well as events in the Seattle Japanese Garden and Kubota Garden. He hopes for Seattle to become a well-known place in Japan and to “close any emotional distance between Japan and the people of Seattle.”

“Cherry trees and flowers are everywhere in Seattle. Cherry blossoms were originally sent from Japan to Washington, D.C., [and] spread throughout the United States,” Inagaki said. “I hope that the citizens of Seattle will also be able to heal their hearts by looking at the rows of cherry blossom trees, relax their minds in Japanese gardens, and can feel closer to Japan.”

Photo depicting Hisao Inagaki in a black suit holding out a bowl filled with paper cranes.
In Japan, the crane is a symbol of longevity. Paper cranes are often gifted to those who are sick, along with well wishes for their health and recovery. (Photo courtesy of Consulate-General of Japan in Seattle.)

Inagaki has worked for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan since 1985, worked in the North America Bureau, and served as staff in foreign offices in Washington, D.C., and Chicago before moving to Seattle in 2020. He says he has been very impressed by the history of Japanese Americans in Seattle, which has the third-largest population of Japanese Americans in the United States.

“My wife and [I have been] totally immersed in the rich history of Japanese Americans in the Northwest,” Inagaki said. “This deepened our gratitude for the dedication and sacrifices of those who laid the foundation of the friendly relationship between the United States and Japan that we enjoy today.”

Consul General Inagaki’s first out-of-office trip in Seattle was visiting Lake View Cemetery, where he dedicated a flower wreath at the Nisei War Memorial and toured the Nisei Veterans Committee (NVC) Memorial Hall. Soon after, he joined the Seattle Japanese Garden for a Ginkgo biloba tree planting ceremony on Oct. 5, 2020 — the 60th anniversary of the hand-planting of a cherry tree and a Betula pendula (East Asian white birch) by Their Imperial Highnesses Crown Prince Akihito and Crown Princess Michiko (who now use the titles The Emperor Emeritus and Empress Emerita since their abdication in favor of their son, The Emperor Naruhito, in 2019), while they were visiting Seattle in 1960 for the 100th anniversary of the Japan–U.S. Treaty of Amity and Commerce.

He later attended a ceremony in the Lake City neighborhood of Seattle to rename 28th Avenue Northeast to Hayashi Avenue after Shizuo and Yaeko Hayashi, who owned a farm growing Easter lilies and vegetables until they were incarcerated in Minidoka, Idaho, during the war. He has also visited the Panama Hotel, home of the last remaining Japanese sento bath in the United States.

Inagaki says he and his office staff try to use these opportunities to pursue their diplomatic goal of bringing people from different cultures and societies together. His larger goal, whether through cranes or events, is to deepen the Seattle community’s understanding of Japan, and foster further friendly relations among as many people as possible between Japan and the United States.

“It’s been three years since I started working here, and my term of office is coming to an end soon,” Inagaki said. “However, [I’ll] continue this as long as I can, no matter where I live, because I want to keep sharing my thoughts with everyone no matter where I am.”

Amanda Ong (she/her) is a Chinese American writer from California. She is currently a master’s candidate at the University of Washington Museology program and graduated from Columbia University in 2020 with degrees in creative writing and ethnicity and race studies.

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