The art of paper folding is incredibly popular among people all over the world. Origami originated in the Far East and it involves creating models without the use of scissors and glue. So sit back and let us tell you how this over one-thousand-year-old art became an international phenomenon. Also, find for yourself why the OYAKATA Master loves the company of cranes and folds them of paper whenever he has the time!

What does ‘origami’ stand for?

The word ‘origami’ consists of two Japanese characters – ori, which means ‘bend’ or ‘fold’ and kami, that is ‘paper.’ However, the name of that art kept changing over the centuries. Historical sources from the Edo period (1603-1868) mention such variants as ‘origata’ or ‘orisue.’ They led to further development of the term ‘orimono,’ to be understood as ‘folded object.’ This is where the term ‘origami,’ commonly used since the end of the 19th century, comes from.

The history of the Japanese origami

No information that could clearly and transparently present the origins of origiami has survived. However, sources say that Chinese monks came to Japan around the 6th century and brought paper with them. So there is a theory that this was when the first paper models were made on Japanese soil. It has been confirmed that in the Heian period (794-1185) it was very common to pack presents and wrap letters in a decorative way. Still, paper was intended mostly for ceremonial use at that time, due to its great value.

This changed in the already mentioned Edo period (1603-1868), which witnessed paper production boom. Good-quality sheets became common and as such more often used for origami. As a result, the art of paper folding was introduced to Japanese primary schools in the Meiji period (1868-1912).

Origami became a worldwide phenomenon at the beginning of the second half of the 20th century. This was when the book New Origami Art (Japanese: Atarashii origami geijutsu) came out. It was authored by Akira Yoshizawa – the creator of tens of thousands of paper model designs. His monograph laid the groundwork for the Yoshizawa-Randlett system, which is based on the development of diagrams depicting paper folds.

Appropriate paper and the art of origami

Paper is the central element of the art of origami. The majority of models are made of a single square-shaped sheet. The final shape depends largely on its type and colour. The following kinds of paper are usually used:

  • Japanese washi – a type of hand-processed paper made of plant fibres. It usually comes as a regular quadrangle dyed on one side. It also has a number of unique patterns, for example imitating the skin. It texture may be adapted to specific projects: it can resemble a textile, it can be metallised or even glow in the darkness.
  • Single-coloured paper – the most common material for the creation of colourful origami models. There are many types of such paper on the market but not all are equally good for the art of model folding. Before you make a purchase, fold a simple figurine to test the properties of the paper in practice. It has the advantages of being relatively low-priced and coming in a wide range of colours.
  • Two-coloured paper – used very often to make models of plants and animals. Its printed surfaces help easily emphasise such details as leaves, teeth or fur colour. There is a cheaper alternative, where you can buy one-coloured paper and print any pattern of your choice on the blank side on your own.
  • Copier paper – despite many disadvantages, it is a good option for everyone who is planning to take their first steps in the world of origami. For more expert users, it is simply either too thin or too thick, depending on the design.
  • Gift wrapping paper – it is a common trap for beginners. Such paper seems attractive due to the variety of patterns but the majority of its types are unfit for origami. Those with the greatest visual appeal, that is lacquered on both sides, are the worst. Matte versions are a much better alternative.
  • Grey packing paper – even though not as spectacular, is a perfect solution if you like to make your own model meshes. It is also often used for complex structures of larger sizes.

Where can you find instructions for origami models?

The most popular way to learn models are diagrams, available in the majority of paper origami guides. They use certain simplified and universal symbols that show precisely how to fold the paper.

Origami books, presenting slides or pictures with diagrams in the reality, are a similar solution. They are usually newer books, addressed primarily to the youngest fans of the art of paper folding.

Video guides, usually published on YouTube, follow the same trends. Actually, it is to them that origami owes its recent renaissance. This modern way of communicating content makes it possible to follow every step on the way to the desired model even more closely.

Professionals use a mesh of folds. Those are sheets of paper created as you unfold finished origami figures. Folds are sometimes highlighted with a felt-tip pen to be more visible. This is definitely the most challenging way to learn origami but also a great memory practice. After all, to fold an origami, you need to remember the model bases you have learnt – the starting points for the folding activities.

Origami types

Traditional origami never uses glue or scissors. Finished models should not be decorated in any way. They are usually made of square sheets of paper but other shapes are also allowed – polygons and circles.

There are also other varieties of the art. Modular origami are very popular too. The type is addressed to those who value the complexity of forms and enjoy large structures. Models made according to this technique are usually geometric solids. They consist of many similar (often even identical) modules based on perfect symmetry. Kinetic origami represents yet another type. The resulting models have movable elements. This way they can be put in motion once completed.

Japanese crane – the symbol of origami

The art of paper folding is popular in many parts of the world. You can admire paper models for instance in the Manggha Museum of Japanese Art and Technology in Cracow, Poland, and in the Nippon Origami Museum (Japanese: Nippon Origami Hakubutsukan) in Kaga, Ishikawa prefecture. The latter has over 100,000 exhibits. They include the world’s smallest crane (Japanese: tsuru) made of paper – it is even smaller than the tip of a single hair.

Japanese crane is the symbol of origami. It was in a way the protagonist of the first guidebook on the art of paper folding in history, which approached the subject as entertainment. Published in 1797, it was entitled Secret to Folding One-thousand Cranes (Hiden Senbazuru Orikata). It presented 49 ways to make a crane.

The Japanese consider those birds as highly majestic. In their natural habitat, they create lifelong bonds with their partners, they are incredibly graceful and very strong. No wonder they are often used in Japanese heraldry and represent one of the key motifs in the art of the Country of Cherry Blossoms.

Crane is primarily the symbol of happiness and longevity. According to Japanese legends, it can live even 1000 years. There is a legend where it is made of paper. It is said that whoever makes one thousand of them, will have one of their wishes come true.

Origami has been an unbelievable phenomenon for years. It helps develop spatial imagination and manual skills. It is also beneficial for logical thinking, memory and concentration. The art of paper folding is not the easiest of tasks. In addition to making complex projects, origami enthusiasts very often create spheres. And to be more precise… crumpled paper balls thrown with great force into the unknown. So origami teaches primarily patience and humility.

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