Photo/IllutrationNicaraguan Ambassador Rodrigo Coronel with his 1,000 paper crane presentation, and Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue in August (Provided by Rodrigo Coronel)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

Of all the tasks Rodrigo Coronel wants to accomplish as Nicaragua's ambassador to Japan, the one closest to his heart is to track down the Japanese woman who patiently taught him how to fold a perfect origami paper crane 27 years ago.

Coronel, now 43, was 16 years old when he attended Emmanuel College in Boston in 1992. One day in class, he saw a folded paper crane that a classmate had made.

Stunned by its simple beauty, Coronel asked her to teach him how to make one.

“You’ll probably forget it quickly,” she said, attempting to brush him off. “It’ll be a waste of my time.”

But Coronel didn’t give up. He kept pestering her for a lesson every day.

Finally, after two weeks, she relented--but only a bit.

“One fold, one day at a time.”

The terms of their agreement were severe.

She instructed Coronel to practice the “one fold” 100 times, every day.

There was more: He had to master the fold flawlessly. If he didn't, the lessons would stop.

“A paper crane loses shape if you don’t fold it perfectly,” she explained.

Coronel, determined to impress her, practiced hard every day. It took him three months to memorize all the folds required to complete a paper crane.

Finally, the day arrived when he was due to make his presentation. Coronel completed an origami crane from scratch as she watched.

Afterward, she extended her arms above her head and formed a round shape.

Coronel didn’t understand the gesture, but took it as one of approval.

After that, he lost contact with her. All these years later, he can't even remember her name but thinks she was about the same age as him.

Little did they know that one of them would play an important diplomatic role in Japan.

Fast forward to March 2018 when Coronel assumed his duties as Nicaragua's ambassador in Tokyo.

The assignment prompted him to start making origami cranes every day, again. He had stopped making them for a while, but the skills hammered into him by his exacting teacher nearly three decades ago had not been forgotten.

When he eats out, Coronel invariably reaches for the paper wrapper for chopsticks to create an origami crane, which he leaves behind in the restaurant or hotel as a gesture of thanks to the staff.

Coronel understands it is customary not to tip in Japan, and said this is his way of showing his appreciation for their service in some small way.

Coronel learned about the symbolism of origami cranes when he visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki for the first time as ambassador.

He was particularly struck by the story of a young girl who developed leukemia as a result of the 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima and made 1,000 paper cranes with her friends in an unanswered prayer for recovery.

Moved by the fact that Japanese pour their heartfelt yearnings for peace when they fold cranes, Coronel decided to make a presentation of his origami to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

He started on the project earlier this year, and it took four months to make 2,000 paper cranes.

“I was imagining the pain of atomic bomb survivors (while making them),” Coronel said.

Coronel visited Nagasaki City Hall to present the cranes two days before the annual Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Victims Memorial Peace Prayer Ceremony held each Aug. 9.

He was met by Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue and city employees, who formed a 30-meter-long reception line on each side of an aisle and broke into wild applause as he walked past. One after another, people in the crowd said, “Thank you.”

The ambassador's eyes welled with tears.

Since then, Coronel’s gift, known as 1,000 paper cranes, has decorated the entrance of the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum in the city’s Hiranomachi district.

Now, Coronel aches to be reunited with the woman who taught him his origami skills, which ultimately made his journey possible.

“I want to see her again,” Coronel said. “I want to tell her, Thank you.”

Anyone with information on the mystery woman can reach Coronel at: (nicjapan@gol.com).