Images of Luck and Life : A mother and daughter join creative forces in an exhibition of their intricate Japanese origami artwork.


The ancient Japanese art of origami is more than a hobby, a way to pass some time. It has lasting emotional power, says artist and singer Michie Sahara.

Consider, she says, the story of the “Thousand Cranes,” which emerged from the days after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945.

A young girl stricken with radiation disease was told she would survive if she folded 1,000 cranes from paper. She died before she could finish the delicate task, Sahara says, “and all the little girls from all over Japan sent cranes to her.”

There now stands in Hiroshima a statue of the girl surrounded by 1,000 of the elegant birds, and many in Japan still bring paper cranes to weddings and anniversaries for luck, Sahara says.


“The crane brings good luck, long life,” she says. “It’s the most beautiful, gorgeous bird. It’s been the subject of origami for over 200 years.”

Sahara and her mother, artist and pianist Masako Sakai, emigrated from Tokyo in the late 1960s and have since found their own luck with cranes.

Their own origami works are on exhibition through August at the Sumitomo Bank in Sherman Oaks.

Their work combines centuries-old traditions of the form mastered by Sakai, combined with new ways of presenting them created by Sahara.


Their origami is included in the collections of the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena and the Mingei International Museum in La Jolla.

“People normally cut origami and that’s it,” Sahara says of the works folded from hand-painted rice paper. “They don’t mount it or anything. We wanted to make a finished presentation. So we come up with different things.”

Their “Thousand Cranes,” for example, are not bundled loosely together, as is customary. Instead, their 1,000 birds of reds, blues, greens and yellows hang toward the floor in neat rows from a bamboo rod.

In a work titled “Rainforest,” a square blue canvas depicts the Amazon, with gold and silver cords to represent rainfall, as 100 small connected cranes gather around a mother figure nearby. “We can’t get bigger than that, unless somebody makes us some bigger paper.”



The source material for these works are the 200-year-old designs created by Rokoan, a Buddhist priest, who wrote poetry to accompany his origami.

Those 49 designs were discovered in an old Japanese book 15 years ago by Sakai, who had never before had a lesson in origami.

Some of those models had as many as 100 individual, connected cranes within them, created entirely from one sheet of paper from precise incisions, and no glue.


Sakai ultimately mastered all 49 models, becoming one of a very small number able to create 100 cranes from a single sheet.

“There are maybe 20 people who can do 100 cranes,” says Sahara, a professional singer of jazz-pop standards. She lives with her mother in North Hollywood.

“My mother and I think of these things together,” she says. “I think of the background, and visualize it and tell her. And my mother says she thinks she can do it.”

At the bank, the 22 works are scattered along the walls, with the delicate cranes exposed on the varied canvases.


“We thought of putting plexiglass over it,” Sahara says. “But it was too expensive, and origami was originally supposed to be as is . When you enclose it in something it looks dead. My mother likes the bird to be alive.”

In that way, the mother and daughter are traditionalists in origami.

In Japan, where origami is now enjoying renewed respect as an art after years of being taken for granted, some are folding paper into such new designs as dinosaurs, pandas, crabs and miscellaneous geometrical patterns.

Sahara says her mother never dreamed origami would ever get this much attention.


“In Japan (some) people . . . think it is just a little hobby to just pass time. But she loves doing it.”

Where and When

What: Origami works by Masako Sakai and Michie Sahara.

Location: Sumitomo Bank, 15250 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks.


Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Fridays. Continues through August.

Price: Free.

Call: (818) 986-5600.