NIPPONIA No. 41 June 15, 2007


Special Featuresp_star.gifOrigami

“I want people all over the world to know how fun origami is...”

People from abroad watch Kobayashi Kazuo demonstrate origami basics.

“Origami is a pastime, something you do for enjoyment, so don't worry if it ends up a bit crooked or the folds don't line up properly.”

His hands move while he speaks. He holds the paper close to his chest and keeps folding without looking at it. Then he says, “There, it's finished.” In his palm is a cute little origami dog.

“The important thing is to do it fast and make it nice to look at. Otherwise, even watching someone make it would be boring.”

Kobayashi Kazuo is the director of the Origami Kaikan (Origami Center), and for more than 30 years he has traveled abroad to teach origami. He starts people out with something basic that can be made with just five folds. “When Japanese people think ‘origami’ they probably think of the folded crane. But I don't teach it. It's too difficult. For one thing, it requires about 20 folds. And you need to know all of the basic origami techniques to make it. If it's difficult, people won't want to make it. I want people just to enjoy doing origami.”

Kobayashi has traveled the world doing just that, including the United States, Russia, Brazil and Thailand. In 2006, as many as 170,000 people came to watch his demonstrations during a 3-day exhibition.

“The tea ceremony, flower arrangement, kabuki and other elements of Japanese traditional culture are admired outside Japan, but the easiest one to relate to is origami. All you need is a single sheet of paper. When people see how easy it is, their eyes light up.”

Kobayashi says he will keep using origami to help people from other countries discover more of the fascination of Japanese culture.


Emblems cut from paper: Bringing an ancient pastime back to life

She folds a square sheet of paper, places a paper pattern on top, cuts out pieces, then opens it up. It unfolds into something unusually beautiful, something you would never have expected. Monkiri asobi was developed by working class folk as a pastime and craft in the Edo period (1603-1867). The final shapes are mon, emblems once used mainly as logos representing families. Shimonaka Naho, an artist specializing in the creation of unique shapes, has revived monkiri asobi as a modern pastime, selling easy-to-make-it kits and holding monkiri workshops in Japan and abroad.

Mon can be flowers, plants, animals, birds, things used daily, even something nobody would ever have thought of. When you try your hand at monkiri, you are going back to old Japan, reviving the spirit of another age, enjoying the fullness of life as it was then. It's a worthwhile experience for people living today.”

Her students decorate their homes with the cutout emblems, perhaps hanging them in a room, lining them up and pasting them on the paper of a shoji sliding door.


Left: Emblems cut out of thick paper are suspended to add charm to a home's decor.
Right: The paper is folded and re-folded (top), then cut with scissors along a paper pattern (middle). Intricate cuts are made with a paper trimmer. The pattern is removed and the paper unfolded carefully to reveal the finished emblem (bottom).
For more monkiri illustrations and information, see the Japanese-language website


Origata: Wrapping presents in paper to express thanks and politeness

In Japan, it would not be polite to give money or a gift without first wrapping it in paper or cloth. The wrapping custom goes back about 600 years to a time when samurai were helping to define social etiquette. They developed formal origata rules on folding Japanese handmade paper to make ceremonial decorations and gift wrapping. Origata is said to be the forerunner of origami.

“New origata styles fit right in with modern living, and we're showing them in classes, through exhibits, and in the books we publish,” says Yamaguchi Nobuhiro, a designer and the director of the Origata Design Institute in Tokyo's Aoyama district. When planning to give a gift as an expression of thanks, wrapping it in paper folded the origata way indicates respect and a keen desire to be polite. This is the most important feeling behind the practice of origata.

Before folding the paper, you should get everything tidy around you, rid your mind of all distractions, and concentrate on the job at hand. The way you fold the paper will depend on what you are wrapping, the occasion when you will give the present, and the season. One basic rule is to fold it in such a way that the receiver will know right away what you are giving.

Yamaguchi says that the Japanese paper (washi) should be strong, pliant and handmade. “You should be able to start from any side of the paper and still end up with a beautiful result. You want it to look beautiful and that means: use high-quality washi.”

Origata uses paper to express beauty, etiquette and culture the Japanese way.


Sample origata styles for decorative paper wrappings. (1) Chopstick sleeves for formal occasions such as a New Year meal or a banquet. (2) Wrapping for tea. High quality tea leaves are often given as a present in Japan. This gift is black tea (known as ko-cha, or “red tea”). The red paper inserted in the slit, overlaid with a film, indicates what is in the package. (3) The wrappings for these special spoons demonstrate both the hospitality of the hostess and the cleanliness of the spoons. (4) An origata wrapping should indicate right away what you are giving. The wrapping for this wine bottle has certainly followed the rule, and adds a touch of sophistication.