It is great to watch how a few folds help transform an ordinary piece of paper into a pretty crane, container, flower, or animal. Yoshizawa Akira is regarded as the grandmaster of origami. While presenting some interesting facts about the history of origami, this CraftCue write-up explores the evolution of this ancient Japanese art.
Origami, as probably everyone knows, is the ancient Japanese art of paper folding. The name origami is derived from the Japanese words ‘oru ‘(to fold) and ‘kami ‘(paper). The name ‘origami’ was coined in 1880. Before that, the art was called ‘orikata ‘(folded shapes). Origami is equally popular in China and other parts of Asia.
Initially, the art of paper folding was restricted only to ceremonial occasions, because paper was scarce and expensive. In ancient times, the designs were transmitted via oral communication. Traditionally, the recreational designs were passed from mother to daughter. As no written material was available, only the simplest designs were popular. The old origami figures mainly included animals, costumed people, and typical ceremonial designs. When paper and origami were first introduced into Japanese culture, certain origami models were incorporated into religious (Shinto) ceremonies. There are hundreds of such interesting origami facts that have left enthusiasts stunned.
In Japan, people usually acquire origami skills quite early during childhood. As origami requires ‘following precise directions’, it has gained a widespread following as a hobby among adults too. The folding process often involves a number of concepts that are relevant to the study of mathematics. It is not only a craft designed for children’s amusement, but it is also intended for adults. Many of the origami forms involve complicated steps, and are difficult to make.
Interesting Facts About the Evolution of Origami
The exact origin of the art is unknown. Different paper folding traditions exist in East Asia and Europe. Although people from other continents and countries knew about various forms of paper folding, it was the Japanese who first used paper as a medium for art.
Paper was invented in China in 105 CE. It was then introduced to Japan in the late sixth century by Buddhist monks.
The Japanese word for paper, kami, is a homonym for the word for ‘spirit’ or ‘god.’ Initially, use of paper was limited to religious ceremonies. Paper butterflies were made to symbolize the brides and grooms in Shinto wedding traditions. The designs associated with Shintoist ceremonies have remained unchanged over the centuries.
The first book about origami was published in 1797. The name of the book was ‘Sembazuru Orikata’ (Thousand Crane Folding), and it was written by Akisato Rito. Instead of paper folding instructions, the book mainly described cultural customs.
One portion of the Kayaragusa, an encyclopedia of Japanese culture published in 1845, included a comprehensive collection of traditional Japanese origami figures.
The Arabs were also making paper in the eight century. Historical evidences show that the Moors brought paper folding to Spain in the twelfth century.
Modern origami owes a great deal to the efforts of Yoshizawa Akira. For centuries, people were folding the same traditional models. However, Master Yoshizawa published books with instructions, as he developed new models in the early 1950s. He, along with American Sam Randlett, formulated the standard set of origami diagram symbols. They are still used today. Yoshizawa introduced origami to people around the world. People were impressed by his models displayed in exhibitions. This led to the formation of various origami associations across the world. Yoshizawa died in 2005 at the age of 94.
The Guinness Book of World Records displays dozens of records regarding the craft of origami, for example, the object that has been created with maximum folds, the smallest and the biggest objects, fastest time for folding 100 cranes, etc.
The origami crane has become an international symbol of peace. The organization named ‘Wings for Peace’ made the world’s largest crane in 1999. It was 215 feet tall, and it weighed 1,750 pounds. As it was a jumbo crane, it had to be made inside of a football stadium. And, it was made entirely from paper.
Another Japanese origami hobbyist, Akira Naito created the smallest paper crane. He folded a square paper to make this crane. The paper measured 0.1-by-0.1-mm. Akira folded the tiny piece of paper using a pair of tweezers and a microscope.
Friedrich Fröbel, founder of the kindergartens, realized the importance of paper binding, weaving, folding, and cutting. He combined these techniques with teaching aids, and used them for child development during the early 19th century. As the kindergarten system spread throughout Europe and to the rest of the world, origami also gained popularity.
Traditional origami involved passing down the instructions orally from generation to generation. Origami was an art form everyone had access to. Modern origami involves models created by designers, many of which are considered privately owned material or intellectual property (use of which can lead to copyright issues). Modern origami emphasizes the puzzle aspect of the folding. To make an origami model, you are supposed to fold a single paper without using cuts or glue. Thus, there is a vast difference between ancient origami and contemporary origami.
Several origami associations have been formed by origami enthusiasts across the world, for example, Origami Center of America (Origami USA), and the British Origami Society. Now there are origami masters and enthusiasts in almost all big cities around the world.
Modern artists, with the help of improved new folding techniques, produce astonishing origami models. Modern origami masterpieces would have astounded the ancients. These days, several books that contain origami instructions are available in the market. Sometimes the instructions involve some form of cutting or gluing, that are thought to be essential for the stability of the final product.
Traditionally, the typical origami paper was to make origami figures. Today, artists use wrapping paper (even candy wraps), typing paper, scrapbook paper, and various forms of handmade paper. They even make figures out of old newspapers. Another form of modern origami involves figures made from paper currency to present a cash gift in a unique way!
Composition and paper choice play an important role in this art form. Yoshizawa has also developed a technique known as back-coating, that is the lamination of two layers of washi (paper made of fibers from the bark of specific trees like gampi tree, mitsumata shrub, paper mulberry, bamboo, hemp, rice, and wheat) to produce a paper that is perfect for folding.
A technique known as wet folding was also developed by Akira Yoshizawa. The greater the amount of sizing (an adhesive that is sometimes added to paper pulp during the paper manufacturing process) in the paper, the more suitable that paper is for wet-folding. Dampening the paper helps sculpt curves and 3D forms in your model.
Origami is practiced by preschoolers, senior citizens, engineers, professional artists, and even by handicapped and blind people. It requires paper, patience, and perseverance. With the advent of the Internet, people can easily find instructions and step-by-step visual examples of how to fold different shapes out of paper. Thus, the art of origami still continues to flourish.