From a young age, Naoki Onogawa has been obsessed with origami, spending hour after hour folding single pieces of paper into different objects. Today, he creates art by folding paper cranes, or orizuru, one of the most common motifs found in origami. Yet his artwork is anything but common: Onogawa folds miniature orizuru whose wingspan clocks in at just 1 cm. And he folds hundreds of them, attaching them together in branch-like forms as if they were bonsai trees.

Orizuru typically are a symbol of peace. But for Onogawa, they hold a slightly different meaning: prayer. When the March 11th earthquake and tsunami struck the Tohoku region, Onogawa was still a student. But when he visited the Rikuzentakada area the following year, he was struck by the destruction and devastation. It was this experience that prompted the artist to begin making miniature paper cranes as a symbol of prayer.

Onogawa folds all of his miniature orizuru by hand, a process that is both repetitive and meditative. The resulting sedge of cranes — yes that is the word for a group of cranes — feels alive and full of energy, as if they’re about to take flight.

Naoki Onogawa is currently showing new works pictured here in an exhibition titled “folklore” at the Setouchi City Museum of Art. The exhibition is up through May 5, 2021 but you can also keep up with the artist on Instagram.