"Paper Folding (Origami)" is one of the most representative cultural activities of Japan.
It is acknowledged globally as "ORIGAMI", and the colorful craftwork using Chiyogami and Yuzen paper is familiar worldwide.
This time, we will be introducing the history of Origami, along with a beginners guide to learn the basics through folding the "Orizuru" and instructions on how to fold boxes and accessories fitting easily into your everyday lives.
Let's dig deep into the attractions of the Origami, where various shapes are created from a single piece of paper.
The roots of Origami in Japan
Although Origami is a familiar toy among children living in Japan, around when did the "Origami" culture take root in Japan in the first place?
In an attempt to learn about the history of Origami, we've visited the "Tokyo Origami Museum" ran by the Nippon Origami Association.
What is the “Tokyo Origami Museum”?
The “Tokyo Origami Museum” is located in Sumida-ku of Tokyo
The "Tokyo Origami Museum" is located in Sumida-ku of Tokyo, where you can view Origami crafts created by artists, buy Origami papers and textbooks, and participate in Origami workshops.
A diverse collection of seasonal Origami works reflecting the creativity of the artist, are carefully stored and displayed in the museum.
You can easily understand the diversity of the ways to enjoy the Origami, just from looking through it.
Various craftworks of Origami artists are displayed at the 1st floor
This time, we have interviewed Mr. Aoki from the Nippon Origami Association.
He works as the chief editor of the "Monthly Origami", and is also in charge of reviewing the origami instructions introduced in this monthly magazine published by the association.
Alright then, let's begin to explore the roots of the Origami in Japan.
The “Monthly Origami” is reviewed and published by the association
Origami as a culture of having fun, started after the start of the Edo era
--To begin with, can you tell us about the roots of the Origami culture in Japan.
The culture of "Origami" we know of today is considered to be an education for Japanese children, and is categorized as "Yugi Origami", meaning its for fun purpose.
It is said that Yugi Origami gained popularity during the early days of Edo era, specifically after the Meiji era when it began to be used as a part of childcare.
--That's amazing! I personally thought Origami was already a popular culture since the Heian era.
It may sound a bit confusing, but it did exist during the Heian era as well.
At that time, paper was a very expensive material and was only affordable for high-class people such as nobles.
They were the ones to come up and develop the culture of "Origata", where folded paper containers fitting into one's pocket called "Tatougami(畳紙)" were created and used in a way similar to handbags of today.
However, these Origami were used for etiquette and manner purposes, so the intention is slightly different from the origami of today, where we enjoy folding just for fun.
--So, how did origami grow to become a public culture of Japan?
The largest turning point may be the establishment of the Terakoya (similar to schools of today), which appeared after Japan’s shift to the Samurai society.
It is said that mistakenly written papers were folded for fun in the same way as today's Origami.
This concept and folding methods spread throughout the population during the Edo era, to form the Origami culture in Japan.
Various types of Origami are available today
As Mr. Aoki mentioned, the appearance of the word "Orisue" standing for origami can be confirmed in "The Life of an Amorous Man", a Japanese literature written by Saikaku Ihara in 1682.
These literatures featuring on the everyday lives of the townspeople in the Edo era were called Ukiyo-zoshi(novels), and the appearance of words related to Origami in these novels prove how familiar the culture became to the general public.
You can see that the culture of Origami spread along with the period when paper became widely used, starting from the nobles to the samurai, and finally arriving in the hand of the townspeople.
"ORIGAMI" is not an exclusive culture of Japan
Although "ORIGAMI" is considered to be a classic Japanese culture which gained worldwide popularity, Mr. Aoki says that it may be inaccurate to define it as a "Made in Japan" culture.
"Obviously, cultures similar to that of the Origami have long existed in foreign countries as well.
For example, the custom of folding napkins as a part of the hospitality can be seen in foreign restaurants, and is somewhat close to the concept of Origami.
In addition to this, it is said that the Yugi Origami became popular as a toy for childcare through being adopted by a German pedagogist also known as the "Founder of Kindergarten", Friedrich Frobel.
With this being said, it is apparent that although the word "ORIGAMI" is nowadays acknowledged as a universal language originating from Japan, the custom of "Folding Papers" itself has been seen in countries all over the world.
However, the creative craftworks and traditional folding methods of the "ORIGAMI" using square Chiyogami and Yuzen-shi paper, is a culture which developed uniquely in Japan, and out of these, the "Orizuru"(an origami crane) is considered to be the most basic and traditional Origami piece every Japanese folded at least once in there lives."
A traditional Origami craft, the ”Orizuru”
"For foreigners who are new to Japanese Origami, I definitely want to encourage them to try the Orizuru. It is packed with all the Origami techniques you need to know." says Mr. Aoki.
The tip for achieving best results when folding an Origami, is that you should not pay too much attention on creating straight fold lines for the "Yamaori (Mountain Fold)" and "Taniori (Valley Fold)".
You should rather consciously focus on "Which corners needs to match", and "What kind of shape follows in the next process".
A how-to clip introducing the ways to fold the Orizuru is linked in the second half of this article.
It is the recommended method reviewed by the Nippon Origami Association, so don't miss it.
It's time to fold the Origami and become familiar with it!
After learning about the history and culture of Origami, it's time to experience the fun through actually folding it.
Of course, cute looking Origami motifs are definitely nice to have, but Origami items suitable for everyday use is even better.
This time, we visited the "Ochanomizu Origami Kaikan" located at a 7 minute walking distance from the JR Ochanomizu station, to attend a regularly held Origami workshop.
The entrance of the Ochanomizu Origami Kaikan
The Ochanomizu Origami Kaikan was formerly a Japanese paper specialty shop established in 1858 called "Yushimano Kobayashi".
As for today, it is a facility where you can enjoy viewing, experiencing, and shopping anything related to Origami.
Led by Mr. Kazuo Kobayashi, who is also the chairperson of the International Origami Society, it aims to protect, convey, and nurture the Origami tradition as an important Japanese cultural heritage through various activities.
Various attractions are available within this 6-story high building, with an Origami gallery and a shop specializing in Origami, Chiyogami, and textbooks perfect for sightseeing purposes, along with Origami experience programs such as Origami lessons, and workshops ingraining the traditional methods of the "Yushimano Kobayashi", a previously well-known name in the paper dyeing industry.
The day of our visit was a sunny holiday.
Since we arrive a bit too early, we decided to take a tour around the museum before attending the lesson.
When looking into the the shop lined with colorful Origami papers, a crowded table in the back caught our eye.
It was an Origami demonstration held by Director Kobayashi, which takes place irregularly at the corner of the shop under the concept of "Enjoying Origami".
Director Kobayashi’s demonstration is extremely popular
While the crowd consisting children to foreign tourists surround the table with a curious look, we saw Director Kobayashi giving talks while effortlessly folding motifs one after another with a colored paper in hand.
Origami crafts are completed one after another while talking
In a matter of seconds, Origami papers are transformed into a "子 (Mouse)" which is the zodiac of 2020, or a rose with a double-sided tape attached to form a brooch.
As if watching a street performance, the excitement spreads throughout the room with customers applauding happily every time a piece was completed.
We also saw many participants asking for the director's signature to be written on the textbook they purchased.
Visiting the workshop where Origami are hand-dyed by craftsmen
The brush(hake) lined up in the workshop
A workshop where craftsmen make traditional hany-dyed Origami, remains here at the Origami Kaikan.
Origami was introduced to the school education of Japan under the philosophy of a German educationist Frobel in 1885.
Upon receiving a request from the Minister of Education at that time, "Yushimano Kobayashi" was the first to commercialize the "Educational Origami".
This tradition has been passed down until today, and various hand-dyed Origami papers are still being made by the hands of skilled craftsmen at the workshop located on the 4th floor.
Origami papers are painted rapidly by the practiced hands of a craftsmen
A red paper being dried
The paper produced today was a monochromatic red Origami paper.
Bright red colors are painted on the paper using a brush, and then quickly dried.
You can't help but give an admiring glance when watching the efficient procedure of the Origami being dyed evenly with the practiced hand of an artisan.
The papers made here are available for purchase at the shop located in the 3rd floor.
Hand-dyed Origami are available for purchase
Let’s create an Origami accessory
An accessory of a fan made from Origami
The Origami lesson we attended for this day was a class for making "Washi Origami Accessories", where we will be making accessories using a small Chiyogami.
It is a class open for anyone to participate, including foreigners.
The instructor was Mr. Masafumi Konishi who produces and sells Washi Origami accessories at "Shizuko Kobo".
After inheriting the philosophy and techniques from his mother who used to make Washi accessories, he currently produces accessories together with her in his workshop.
Mr. Konishi was the instructor
From effectively using the patterns of the Washi in its motif, the main features of Mr. Konishi's works can be seen from the symmetrical and elegant appearance.
Due to its delicate and refined look, you won't be able to believe that it is a completely handmade craft, and with the quality being so high, it gained popularity not only among foreigners, but also between many Japanese people as well.
This time, we will make gorgeous and elegant earrings (pierced) with a motif of a fan.
The participants were mainly consisted of women, such as a mother who came to make earrings for her daughter, a student attending Mr. Konishi's class regularly, and a woman who looks forward to selling Washi accessories on her own in the future.
They were all individuals who came under the will to learn and absorb the techniques of Mr. Konishi.
This is also a piece made by Mr. Konishi. The symmetrical tree has a cute look.
The lesson is about 3 hours long, and you will first learn how to make a fan using a large Washi paper.
It's not as simple as you may think, since the making procedure is not about "Fold the Washi, and your done!".
In order to make the accessory wearable in everyday use, processes to enhance durability such as using bonds and applying varnish on the surface to prevent the paper from wilting when exposed to rain becomes very important.
Let us provide you with a brief introduction on the series of processes.
We practice using a large paper at the beginning
Sticking the Origami together with a bond to prevent it from losing shape
Firstly, you will start by folding the Origami in half and fixing it with a bond. Once it's hardened, you will fold it again, this time applying fold lines to create bellows.
Note that the impression of the final craft varies depending on the number of bellows folded in the fan (either 8 or 12).
According to Mr. Konishi, fans with many bellows are popular among young Japanese women, and foreigners prefer fans with less folds since the patterns of the Chiyogami can be seen more clearly.
At the practice session, you will be taught the former method with 12 bellows.
Since you can’t see the fold line, making nice looking bellows is difficult
Bellows are made from alternately applying mountain folds and valley folds, but bellows with even space and nice looks are extremely hard to create.
Even after consciously listening to the folding tips from your teacher, after all, the end result of whether the bellows show up beautifully or not is all up to the skillfulness of your fingertips.
The practice continues until the attachment of the metal parts
For the real take, I've chosen a Chiyogami paper (5cm x 6cm) which is smaller than the one used during practice.
You can also select the design of your choice out of a variety of Chiyogami papers, and for this, I used a lovely looking red colored Chiyogami decorated with white and orange plum blossoms.
Out of a variety of papers, I chose the one with plum blossom patterns
Through carefully following the instructions learned in practice, we started folding the Washi.
With the paper being extremely small, each fold must be firmly done through the use of subtle fingertip movements, and beautiful folds are an important factor in the creation of a nice looking craft.
"All you have to do is to create solid important fold lines which serves as a reference, and then match the rest of the folds based on the instruction. The main point here is to make sure to perfectly fold the important ones correctly and firmly." says Mr. Konishi.
Once the bellows are completed, a metal fitting is attached to form the shape of a fan.
The fixing procedure consists of applying the bond through the use of a bamboo skewer, and pressing the fitting against it to create the shape.
Shown above is the size used in practice. The actual Chiyogami used for the accessory is much smaller.
Once the bond is completely dry, the fan will be completely unfolded for varnish to be applied and harden.
By applying the varnish twice, the Washi becomes coated, making it into a firm accessory which will not wrinkle even when exposed directly to rain.
It will be dried after applying varnish
After everything is complete, metal parts used for the earring (piercing) and chain will be attached and connected.
The round chain is tiny, making the process very difficult.
It easily slips out of your hands unless you hold your breath while working.
A close look at the fingertips of Mr. Konishi attaching the chain. The small metal parts can easily slip out or your hands
Here is what the finished earring looks like.
Finally, it's time to celebrate the completion of the world's one and only Washi accessory.
The completed work of the earring of a fan (pierced earrings are also choosable)
The accessory making class progressed in a friendly atmosphere throughout the lesson.
You will be able to enjoy a peaceful experience even if you participate alone, since active conversations take place between the students regardless of age, such as discussing which Chiyogami to choose and teaching each other about things you didn't understand.
I was also happy with the diverse options to select from, since this allows you to create the perfect accessory of your choice based on the number of bellows, the size of the fan, and the various designs.
An enjoyable accessory making experience while interacting with other students
Mr. Konishi's accessory class is held once a month at the Origami Kaikan.
You can check the details from the link shown below, so look through it if it sounds interesting to you.
Origami Kaikan Website
How to fold tutorial video 1: Perfect for use in everyday life, the "Box"
”Orisue” is a perfect Origami craft for using in everyday life
In addition to the accessory, we would also like to introduce an "Origami piece suitable for everyday use".
Without the need for glue and scissors, you will be able to make a "Box" from a single piece of square paper just from simply following the instructions.
This folding method called "Orisue" can be used in various situations, such as placing it on your office desk to put in some candies and chocolates, or at your home entrance to put in keys and small items.
The "Wrapping Origami Book with English Translation" by Ikeda Shoten, 1,430 yen
This work is featured in an article included in the "Wrapping Origami Book with English Translation" published by Ikeda Shoten.
With the main theme of this book being based on "Wrapping", it includes an instruction for 24 kinds of folding methods, which also comes with a set of Chiyogami papers so you can try it out immediately.
You can purchase it from the retail shop or the website of the Origami Kaikan.
How to fold tutorial video 2: The traditional Origami craft, the "Orizuru"
At the end of this article, we would also like to show you how to fold one of the most traditional Origami crafts of Japan, the "Orizuru", in the recommended way of the Nippon Origami Society.
Why not learn the various techniques of Origami through folding the Orizuru?
Experiencing the unique Japanese "ORIGAMI Culture" in Tokyo
Origami in Japan has many appeals other than being used as a tool to play with for children.
It fits perfectly for use in everyday life, since you can create a variety of Origami crafts from numerous types of motifs and designs ranging from beautiful Chiyogami and Yuzen-shi papers with vivid designs, and simple monochromatic Origami papers to choose from.
Enjoy your time moving your fingers to fold an Origami!