Southold woman uses origami to support her native country

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Sonomi Obinata creates an origami crane as part of a fundraiser for the Japan Society's tsunami relief fund

When Southold resident Sonomi Obinata saw the televised images of the earthquake and tsunami in her native Japan, she was heartsick for nearly a week.

As the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant began to unfold, her depression turned to agitation and anger, and she realized that she needed to do something to express her love and support for her country.

Ms. Obinata, a makeup artist who moved to Southold from New York City 10 years ago to raise a family, will endeavor to make 1,000 origami cranes as a symbol of her hopes for her country.

In Japanese tradition, cranes symbolize a long life, and people often bring 1,000 cranes to sick relatives and friends. The story of the thousand cranes was made famous worldwide after a young girl named Sadako Sasaki, who lived in Hiroshima when the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on the city toward the end of World War II, attempted to make 1,000 cranes while in the hospital suffering from leukemia.

Sadako Sasaki managed to make 644 cranes before she died. Ms. Obinata, however, has the help of Southold Elementary School, which has invited her into classes to make cranes with students. The Southold and Greenport libraries are also joining in by hosting crane-making workshops with Ms. Obinata next week.

The Southold Free Library workshop will be held Tuesday, April 12, from 4 to 5:30 p.m. and the Floyd Memorial Library session on Friday, April 15, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. The public is invited to help out, listen to the music of Brady Rymer and make voluntary donations to the Japan Society’s earthquake relief fund.

Ms. Obinata said her participation in these public events is a far cry from her normal shy, low-key presence in town. She occasionally travels to New York City for work, gives sushi-making lessons at Southold Free Library and devotes much of her time and energy to her son, Kai, a fifth-grader at Southold Elementary School.

“I was so depressed when the earthquake struck Japan that I felt like I had a hole in my stomach,” she said Tuesday. “The second week I started feeling agitated. It’s my home country. I’m hurting. I’m so mad that we created the nuclear plant. The earthquake, we can recover from, but the nuclear plant, we created it, and in Japan, we’re very used to radiation.

“I feel like I want to protest. I want to do everything to wake everyone up,” she said.

Ms. Obinata has spoken with a friend, East End biodynamic farming guru KK Haspel, about the role biodynamic agriculture can play in reversing the effects of radiation, and, in hopes of helping keep the food supply in her home country safe, she’s begun to reach out to farmers in Japan with farming techniques based on the spiritual energy found in soil, air and food that many practitioners believe could help fight radiation.

Ms. Obinata was raised in Konagawa, Japan’s second-largest city. As a child, she spent time on her cousin’s farm outside the city, where she helped to pick pears, chestnuts and green tea leaves with her family. That farm is now gone, part of the rapid suburbanization of both her country and the world. Ms. Obinata moved to New York in 1993 and much of her remaining family lives in Tokyo, where they’ve been assured they are not being exposed to a dangerous amount of radiation. But Ms. Obinata isn’t sure that’s true.

“We share this world. We should care,” she said. “I felt the pain when there were earthquakes in Sumatra, Haiti and New Zealand. When the Twin Towers fell, we made 1,000 cranes.”

In the children’s room of the Southold library Tuesday afternoon, as Ms. Obinata demonstrated the intricate steps in folding an origami crane, she looked out across a table covered in multicolored cranes, each one completed by a different Southold student who had made a wish for the future of Japan while folding the paper.

She has her own wish for her country. In Japanese, the word for what she wants to say to her compatriots is “ganbatte.” There’s no exact English translation.

“Try your hardest and you will find peace. Do the right thing, focus. Find the right technology,” she said. “What’s most important is the children. The children are the future.”

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