Princeton Paper Crane Project Takes Flight Bringing Peace, Hope, and Healing to the Community: An Interview with Heidi Moon of Miya Table & Home
The Princeton Paper Crane Project was developed in the spring of 2020 when a symbol of hope was needed most. The aim of the project was to bring the community together through art and give people a calming, meditative activity during these stressful times. The finished project, with over 17,000 paper cranes, now on display in the Arts Council of Princeton’s Taplin Gallery, is a collective wish of hope and peace for all.
The crane, in Japanese culture, is a symbol of longevity and peace. Senbazuru (a thousand cranes) is a well-known tradition in Japan that promises to grant a wish to anyone who folds 1,000 cranes.
The exhibit was led by Miya Table and Home, a third-generation, family-owned importing business specializing in the import of tableware and accessories. The flagship store is located on Palmer Square.
Recently we had a chance to talk with Heidi Moon of Miya Table & Home about life in the time of Corona, the family business, Princeton Paper Crane Project, and more.
Life in the time of Corona
Arts Council of Princeton: What does your daily life look like during the time of Corona?
Heidi Moon: Every day is pretty similar. So much so that I forget what day it is. I heard somewhere that we are no longer working from home, we are living at work. I’m grateful that I am able to work from home. I don’t know how much has changed from when we first quarantined except that it’s been more difficult figuring out how to keep our family safe outside our home.
What has been hardest for you during this time?
You mean aside from news of an uncontrollable global pandemic, the unfathomable number of deaths, stories of economic hardships, racial injustice, and ineffectual federal government, and stress of not knowing what would happen with the future of our business? I mean, when we think of it this way, it’s hard to complain about anything else?
But if we assume that those fears are pretty universal, the next hardest part is probably finding a balance between making sure our family is safe and allowing them to have some semblance of normalcy. I hate saying no to everything my kids want to do. My eldest just finished high school and instead of celebrating and getting excited for college, she is limiting the number of friends she can see, the activities she can do, functions she can attend, and feeling a little sad about missing her first semester and potentially, her entire freshman year. In the end, she understands that we are, as a family, pretty fortunate to be healthy and still have the financial stability for us to keep moving forward.
What gives you comfort during this time? Have you discovered or rediscovered a new skill or hobby?
In the beginning, I was excited to spend some time reading or knitting – I had a list of books which I was determined to finish this summer. What gave me comfort, honestly though, was making the paper cranes with my family. We would do it together, watching TV or something, and I found it quite therapeutic and soothing. We did hear that a lot from other people. Origami may feel challenging at first but once you get a hang of it, it’s so satisfying. In a few minutes, you have a beautiful, handcrafted piece of art made from just a square piece of paper.
Taking Flight: Princeton Paper Crane Project
What inspired you to organize the Princeton Paper Crane Project?
It was early in the quarantine and as with everyone else, we felt helpless. There was a lot going on and not much you can control. We had just heard the news that an old friend of mine had lost his mother and his brother within a couple of days of each other. It was heartbreaking to know that people were losing loved ones and could not even mourn them in the traditional ways with funerals or memorials and grieve with family members.
We had completed a thousand crane projects before and our customers really love seeing them in our windows. I thought it would be something that we could do –make a crane for every person who had passed from COVID-19 as a type of memorial for them. At the time, the news said the number of deaths in NJ was a couple of thousand. Of course, as the numbers increased rapidly, we thought, maybe others in the community would want to help. If we did it as a community, maybe it would also help to foster the idea that we were all in it together.
How did you get the community involved?
I had started asking around to see if we could find a venue to display thousands of cranes when I got a call from Ross Wishnick, the chairperson of the Princeton Human Services Commission. Ross said he heard I was doing this project and that he had a similar idea and thought we should work together. He was great about helping get the word out about the project and then securing the perfect location to display the project, the Arts Council’s Taplin Gallery.
Between the social media accounts, Ross’s distribution channels, and just word of mouth through our friends and neighbors, we started getting a lot of folks excited to contribute to the project.
How was the response?
The response was great! I was hoping to have one crane for every person who had passed from COVID in New Jersey, so that people could actually visualize the enormity of that number but we ended up exceeding that number. We received approximately 17, 850 cranes from the community. I think the paper crane project resonated with people because they were already familiar with the feeling of hope and love behind it. We got several messages from various folks who said they had finished crane projects before. Many said they had completed them for weddings, one woman wrote us a letter saying their family had completed one for her husband who had struggled with scary health issues, another young girl who was currently working on one for climate change. We had many cranes with messages of support for the Black Lives Matter movement which was also quite moving.
I realize there is no actual magic behind the thousand cranes project – things do not happen just because we wish for it. But making a communal wish – for something better than our current circumstances whether it is because it impacts us directly or it affects our friends, family, neighbors, and the global community as a whole – that wish means people can be motivated to act. There is hope. You wouldn’t be motivated to make things happen if there were no hope.
How long did it take you to set up the exhibit in the Taplin Gallery?
My family and I started making cranes in April before I even had a place to display them because I figured if nothing else, I could display them at our shop. We started publicizing in June and cranes started trickling in. We started installation in early June and it took about 4 weeks to organize the cranes, stringing them up, and installing around the room.
What has the response been to the exhibit?
So far, so good! I have been a little hesitant to find out since it’s been such a labor of love and I am nervous of what people will think of it but I really think it turned out well. It’s meant to be quiet so that visitors can have their own emotions about it. I hope people find it moving but also hopeful. I also hope everyone who submitted cranes finds joy in being part of a community endeavor.
About Miya Inc.
Miya Inc. is my husband, Bob Matsukawa’s family business. His great uncle, Chosuke Miyahira, or Mr. Miya, started the business as a small retail shop in New York City in the late 1930 which began importing goods from Japan in 1947. My father-in-law moved the business to New Jersey in the 80s and now we are in the third generation of this family business with Bob leading the company. His sister, June, runs the finance side, and I take care of the marketing and the retail side.
We moved to Princeton in 2016 and I thought it would be the perfect place to set up our own retail store, which had been a dream of mine for a while. We are all becoming more mindful of our food and meals whether they share them with others or fly solo. Why not use tableware that we love too?
We are open with adjusted hours and a limit of 4 customers at a time. It’s been great to see our “regulars” and know that they are doing well. We are hearing a lot that people are cooking at home more and using our bowls and plates is bringing them a little bit of joy.
Support Local Businesses
Everything that is happening around us has almost become a test of character and resilience. And for the most part, we are stepping up. In Princeton, as soon as there were stories of people in need, people and organizations popped up to help. Local businesses stepped up to donate their goods or services to groups that would distribute essential items to the community. When local businesses needed help, people were donating to Go Fund Me accounts. The Princeton Small Business Resiliency fund was set up by the municipality with a donation from the University. We created shirts and bags to fundraise for the resiliency funds as well and to show Princeton pride – all the local business owners I contacted helped without a moment’s hesitation to help spread the word. There were groups of students and faculty who were offering their services to local businesses as well. When we were closed, we heard from many customers who told us they were trying to patronize a few local businesses every week just to help keep us all afloat. When we asked for paper cranes and thought we might as well shoot for the moon and hope for 10,000, we received almost 18,000 cranes. It’s not all perfect and we all need to continue to do our part but this is a pretty special place and I feel very fortunate to be a part of it.
Shop Local, Buy Local
It is clear to me that it is even more important to support our small/local businesses and organizations as much as possible. These are the people in our community who are there when you need them. When people say the global community is getting smaller because of technology, that is very true. But we can’t forget about our own physical communities. Small and local businesses help local economies grow. Local businesses provide jobs, pay taxes, utilize other local businesses and services, donate to more local non-profits, generally have smaller carbon footprints and add to the character of the community. When you hear the figures that ⅓ of all small businesses will close due to the effects of COVID-19 (as well as the federal government’s response to it), it’s heartbreaking to know that on top of all the actual deaths, people’s dreams are dying too.
What is the one thing that has surprised you about this time?
I’m surprised at how difficult it is to get people to wear a mask and maintain social distancing.
How do you think this experience will change us?
I can be quite cynical at times but I have hope that the whole experience may end up actually changing us for the better as a society. I hope that it would build more empathy for others and recognize the need for more affordable healthcare, affordable housing, fair wages, support of local businesses, and social justice. I hope the movements that started during this time are not lost and forgotten after things start to get back to “normal.”
Best advice for staying sane and grounded?
That is assuming I am staying sane and grounded. Just wear a mask please (and don’t be a jerk). We are all in it together.
What do you look forward to where we are able to freely gather again?
I look forward to going out for dinner/drinks with our friends and walking through town bumping into my kids hanging out with their friends. Teenagers love when their parents wave to them on the street!
It’s not easy to move forward when circumstances keep us stagnating but let’s say if you can vote, please vote.