Each video on Hisao Inagaki’s Instagram starts with seemingly the same frame.
The 60-year-old diplomat stares into the camera with a whisper of a smile, eclipsed by a faint five o’clock shadow. His black hair is parted to the left, its volume varying only ever so slightly. At the end of the video, he holds up an origami crane and recites the same prayer for everyone’s health and peace.
More than a year since he’s taken his post as the Japanese consul general in Seattle, Inagaki has been filming his message every day without fail.
Such is the life of a diplomat in the pandemic age.
The idea of filming a daily video came to him, Inagaki said, when he mused about ways to connect with the local community without being able to host dinners and join social events. At a time when Zoom calls replaced cocktail parties, Inagaki felt the need to come up with new ideas to interact with citizens virtually.
At first, few people paid attention to his videos. But as time went on, his unwavering efforts have generated a number of warm messages and compliments.
“My followers comment ‘Thank you,’ ‘I appreciate it,’ or messages that encourage me to keep it up,” Inagaki told VICE World News in a Zoom call, his background lavishly decorated with the cranes he made for the videos.
Notes of appreciation have come beyond his host country (“Gratitude, blessings and prayers for you from Italy,” one comment says), while some people are amused by his sartorial choices.
“Looking like a boss,” one comment reads. “Looking fresh as fuck, Hisao,” another reads, on the only day he wore a suit in the video. (It was his 365th crane video.)
While the message is always the same for all his videos, he was particular about his delivery, filming often five to ten takes before uploading the best version to his Instagram page.
“I jumble my words, or stumble. Usually by the last video I’ll decide ‘Hey! This one’s not too bad,’ and upload it,” he said.
He chose orizuru (origami cranes) because it has long symbolized healing in Japan.
Origami, the art of folding paper, is a popular pastime among Japanese children. Like Inagaki, many learn how to make a crane in elementary school. In Japanese folklore, the ethereal-looking bird represents longevity, and is said to live 1,000 years.
But the association between healing and paper cranes really took off with the story of Sadako Sasaki, who was 2 years old when she survived the Hiroshima atomic bomb. At 12, she was diagnosed with leukemia, which she hoped to cure by folding 1,000 paper cranes. During her hospitalization, it’s said she folded about 1,300 to 1,500 orizuru. Although she died eight months after diagnosis, her memory is preserved at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, and millions of paper cranes are mailed to Hiroshima annually from around the globe in her honor.
Inagaki himself received orizuru when he was hospitalized in elementary school for myelitis, a neurological condition that causes inflammation in the spinal cord. The disorder left the lower half of his body paralyzed, but he made a complete recovery in six months.
For anyone watching his account, he hopes to continue this message of peace. “I fold each crane while praying for people’s good health,” he said, which he believes is why his facial expression remains unchanged in all the videos.
Before his posting in Seattle, Inagaki was with the Japanese consulates-general in Washington D.C. and Chicago, an eight-year tour of duty during a period of strong and stable ties between Japan and the United States. He observed greater diversity as he moved from coast to coast.
“There are more Asians than I remember,” he said.
Although it’s common practice to stop folding at 1,000 cranes, Inagaki said he has no intention of quitting.
“Some of my followers might get bored of me making the same origami crane every day. Actually, a few have unfollowed me because of this. But there are people who don’t even follow me and enjoy my content,” he said.