The young girl named Sadako Sasaki was born to be a runner, and, according to her mother, learned to run even before she could walk. One August morning in 1954, Sadako runs out to the street outside of her home—it is a clear, beautiful day, which Sadako sees as a good sign. She is always on the lookout for signs of good luck around her.
Sadako runs back inside and wakes her siblings. She pokes her older brother Masahiro and excitedly tells him that today is Peace Day. Like all fourteen-year-olds, Masahiro is lazy, but he loves to eat, and the smell of bean soup cooking for breakfast gets him out of bed. Sadako helps her younger brother Eiji, who is only six, to get dressed, and then Sadako and her sister Mitsue, who is nine, put away the siblings’ bed quilts in a linen closet.
In this passage Sadako is established as an empathetic sibling and a caregiver to her younger brother and sister. Her playful relationship with her older brother Masahiro contrasts—but complements—her sense of duty to the younger children, and to her family and home life in general.
Sadako runs into the kitchen, calling to her mother about how excited she is to “go to the carnival.” Her mother, preparing breakfast, scolds Sadako. Sadako is eleven, her mother says, and should know better than to refer to Peace Day as a “carnival”—it is a memorial day for those who died when the atom bomb was dropped on the city of Hiroshima. Sadako’s father comes in from the back porch and urges her to show some respect—Sadako’s own grandmother was killed that day. Sadako insists she does respect her grandmother, and prays for her spirit every morning.
As Sadako gleefully looks forward to celebrating Peace Day at a “carnival,” her parents remind her that the purpose of the festival is to mourn and remember. Her parents are clearly still haunted by their losses, and are trying as hard as they can to instill values of respect for the dead and the desire to honor the past, good and bad, in their children.
Mr. Sasaki says that it is in fact time for morning prayers, and the family gathers around their altar shelf. Mr. Sasaki prays that the spirits of their family’s ancestors are at peace and gives thanks for all his life’s blessings—his thriving barbershop and his beautiful family. Finally, Mr. Sasaki prays that his family will be protected against leukemia—the “atom bomb disease” which many people in Hiroshima are still dying from even though the bomb was dropped nine years ago. The air was filled with radiation after the bomb dropped, and the poison from it can stay inside people for a very long time.
Mr. Sasaki’s prayers are hopeful and grateful, but also tinged with fear. He hopes to safeguard his family against leukemia—the physical manifestation of the lingering effects of the atomic bomb. Leukemia is both a very real, practical fear and a physical embodiment of all the deeper-rooted emotional and psychological fears that still continue to plague the Sasakis and their larger community nearly a decade after the nuclear attack on their hometown.
Sadako gulps down her breakfast, thinking of last year’s Peace Day and dreaming of what this one will bring. She finishes breakfast before anyone else and urges Mitsue to help her wash the dishes so that they can go to the festival as fast as possible. Sadako finishes cleaning up, ties red ribbons in her hair, and stands by the door, but her mother urges her to sit quietly until it is time to go. Sadako plops down onto the floor, angry that nothing ever makes her parents hurry. While she sits near the door, she spots a spider—a good luck sign. Sadako cups the spider into her hands and sets it free outside.
Sadako’s excitement and optimism are again shown to be qualities that her family frowns upon. She is eager to observe Peace Day with her family, friends, and community, perhaps as a method of ameliorating the fears that she and her family all still fear, and which were just stirred up again, probably, by Mr. Sasaki’s morose and slightly fearful prayers. At the same time, Sadako’s excitement and inability to really understand the sadness that is part of the festival help to mark her as an innocent, who was not only not a part of the war that led to the nuclear bombing but too young to even understand it.