Everything you Need to Know About Japanese Origami

Origami is the traditional art of folding pieces of paper to make beautiful creatures.

Origami is typically associated with Japan however, did this art form traditionally derive from Japan? If not, then where does origami come from? Read on to find out the origins of origami and how to use origami for your own enjoyment.

A vivid display of Japanese origami paper cranes, showcasing diverse, intricate folds and designs.

What is Origami?

Origami is the art of folding a piece of flat paper through various forms into something of a different shape representing a different meaning. In Japanese origami literally means ‘folding paper’.

Where Does Origami Come From?

Although origami is typically associated with Japan it is actually thought to have originated in China. This is not too surprising since the paper-making technique was invented in China and the single most important element of origami is the paper, of course.

In the sixth century, it is thought that Buddhist monks brought paper to Japan and Korea from China. Japan’s tradition of folding paper started shortly after and well, the rest is origami history!

Japanese Origami History and its Uses Today

With the arrival of paper to Japan in the sixth century, it meant that paper was an expensive luxury. For its first thousand years in Japan, paper folding was largely restricted to religious ceremonial use and for the enjoyment of the elite, like the Samurai. At this time, origami art mostly included making Noshi (little good luck paper charms) and attaching it to a gift, as a sign of good luck fortune.

However, due to the increasing popularity of origami, the Japanese Lords were encouraged to expand the local paper making industry during the Edo Period (1603-1868). This made paper available to the masses, which inspired recreational forms of origami. The first known type of representative origami was paired butterflies that adorned sake bottles at Shinto weddings, as a symbol of the bride and groom; these butterflies are still very popular today. The first origami book was Tsutsumi-no-Ki, published in 1764, which had instructions on folding noshi and Tsutsumi.

One of the best-known origami models is the tsuru or crane; used to represent the Japanese red-crowned crane. A thousand paper cranes, senbazuru, is said to grant wishes to come true. Therefore, senbazuru are often given as wedding gifts from the father, to wish the happy couple a thousand years of happiness and prosperity. Similarly, they can also be given to a newborn baby for good wishes or to an ill friend or family member to get better.

Today, the modern popularisation of Japanese origami is largely attributed to Akira Yoshizawa, who designed tens of thousands of original designs. He even published a book in 1954 Atarashi Origami Geijutsu (New Origami Art), this laid the foundation for the system of notation for origami folds, which uses dashed and dotted lines to represent different folds.

Vibrant Japanese origami cranes strewn on a wooden table, with a blurry outdoor backdrop.

Different Types of Origami

  • Chiyogami- involves folding only a single sheet of paper to create a representative shape like a frog or flower.
  • Modular origami- involves using multiple folded shapes to form a larger construction.
  • Wet-folding origami- allows the creation of curved shapes
  • Action origami- refers to toy-like origami, for example, jumping frogs.

There are many different types of origami, some involve only a single piece of paper and others involve cutting or gluing multiple pieces of paper together; there is no right or wrong method to origami per se. It is still a wildly loved art form in both Japan and worldwide, with generations continuing to pass down longstanding designs and create new ones, as origami art continues to develop with modern interests and needs.

If this post has inspired you to give some origami a go for yourself then browse The Japanese Shops large selection of Japanese origami paper, perfect for all the family to get involved in.

If you are looking for something specific to keep the kids entertained through the holidays, check out our previous post, exploring the benefits of children’s origami.

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