While my mother was visiting Japan this past month, my conversation partners and I arranged a special meeting so they could teach us origami, the art of paper folding. Having become quite taken with the cranes you often find sitting on ryokan pillows and the stunning geometric origami balls my daughter was gifted by a friend, I thought to myself this craft couldn’t be that hard to learn.
Three weeks later and I believe we’re all still laughing over my efforts.
Origami first developed in Japan after Buddhist monks from China imported paper with them sometime in the 6th century. The word oru means “to fold” and the word kami is “paper. As early as the Heian Period (794-1185), you could find small origami images of a bride and groom at Shinto wedding celebrations. Later, samurai would use noshi, folded designs made out of paper, to adorn packages they would present to others.
Most of the well-known figures in origami are animals – cranes top the list, with their ties to longevity, but you can also find carp and frogs. Some restaurants fold origami chopstick holders and you can even find folded origami figures in kimono on Girls’ Day and various star shapes for the Tanabata Festival in July.
Perhaps one of the most famous stories related to origami is that of Sadako Sasaki, a young girl who contracted leukemia due to radiation exposure during the bombing of Hiroshima. She set a goal to fold a 1000 paper cranes in the hopes that once she reached that number, she would be healed. Sadly, she reached only 644 cranes before she passed away at the age of 12. Her legacy lives on, however, in the Children’s Monument in Hiroshima’s Peace Park, where thousands of cranes in long paper chains hang around a statue commemorating her life.
Few places in Japan are dedicated to origami; instead, you’ll most likely stumble across examples at traditional inns, restaurants, or shrines and you can purchase origami paper at many gift shops. However, the Origami Kaikan in Tokyo provides the chance to see some stellar examples of folded figures as well as try your hand at more simple creations in their daily workshops.
Are any of you good at origami? Do you have a favorite design? Currently, I’ve mastered the jumping frog, to the great amusement of my 3-year-old. Onward and upward, I suppose! 🙂