A Japanese man who started work as a hospital chaplain in Minnesota in 2020 said his appeal for paper cranes to decorate the hospital for COVID-19 patients resulted in more than 16,000 origami birds arriving.

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Pastor Kazuhiro Sekino, who started work at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis in July 2020, said his appeal for paper cranes stemmed from his initial encounter with a coronavirus patient at the facility.

"I was super scared," Sekino recalled to KARE-TV. "Of course it was recommendation I wear gown, gloves and goggles and hard face masks. My language was limited because of the hard face mask and time was limited. So that's why I got an idea that I can make a paper crane as a Japanese chaplain and hand him as a symbol of healing and hope."

Sekino said origami cranes are a symbol of healing in Japanese culture.

"In Japan, making a paper crane, especially collecting 1,000 paper cranes tied together -- it is an intense prayer for healing and seeking peace," he said.

Sekino posted a video to his YouTube account asking his followers to send him paper cranes for the hospital.

"I thought I'd get maybe 200," he told Mpls St. Paul magazine.

The chaplain said he was shocked by the number of cranes he received.

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"Some schools and communities started making together, with so many people, and its amount is 16,000," he said. "Which I never expected."

Most of the cranes are now on display at the hospital, hanging from the ceiling in the main lobby.

"The hospital is not a super fun place to visit," Sekino said. "They're looking down because there are so many emotional distress to visit the hospital. But once they step into the hospital, first thing they see is this paper crane, so they can look up -- something they didn't expect."