Origami is a traditional Japanese pastime where people make many different kinds of figures by folding paper. The crane is seen to be symbol of auspiciousness, and so origami cranes are a widely familiar motif among Japanese people as many have made at least one origami crane in their lives. Origami cranes, or Orizuru in Japanese, can be created in an interlocking manner from a single sheet of paper, in a style known as Renzuru. This style is a time-honored part of Japanese culture, and it expresses a wide range of structural beauty through creative additions. This article guides you through the world of Renzuru.
The Origin and History of Renzuru
In Japan, there is a custom called Senbazuru (literally “1,000 cranes”) where people string together Orizuru in groups of about 1,000 using thread, to pray for a disease to recover or for peace. Renzuru features multiple interlocking Orizuru all made from a single sheet of paper, and is thought to originate from Kuwana City in Mie Prefecture, located near the center of Japan. Japan’s oldest book about origami as a pastime is called Hiden Senbazuru Orikata (Secret to Folding One-thousand Cranes). It was published in 1797and was widespread within Japan. This book features diagrams showing how to fold 49 types of Renzuru invented by Roko-an Gido, the chief priest of Choen-ji Temple in Kuwana City. So-un-zuru, the origin behind Gido’s book, notes that he learned secret origami techniques from travelers. Kuwana City has designated the Renzuru featured in Hiden Senbazuru Orikata as Intangible Cultural Property, calling them “Kuwana no Senbazuru” (“The Thousand Cranes of Kuwana”). New materials have been discovered in relation to Renzuru in recent years, and so an exhibition called “Reviving Renzuru” was held at the Kuwana City Museum. These Renzuru figures are enjoyed in Kuwana City and many other locations.
Examples of Renzuru Figures
This section showcases Renzuru figures by Yurami Otsuka along with plan drawings from Hiden Senbazuru Orikata. Yurami Otsuka is the “Kuwana no Senbazuru” technique keeper designated by Kuwana City and serves as a history specialist at the Kuwana City Museum. Her book, Kuwana no Senbazuru, features plan drawings of the Renzuru (49 types in total) in Hiden Senbazuru Orikata, recreated Renzuru figures, folding methods, historical materials, and other information.
Imose-yama is made by folding one sheet of Japanese paper with a cut in it, to produce two cranes spreading their wings. Imose means a husband and wife who are close to each other. The cranes have their wings joined together and face the same way, expressing the closeness of a married couple or a pair of lovers.
Seikaiha (literally “Waves on the Blue Sea”) depicts nine cranes joined together as they fly over the blue sea. The plan drawing in Hiden Senbazuru Orikata clearly indicates the areas that should not be cut.
Hanami-guruma (literally “Vehicle for Viewing Blossoms”) features a parent crane with two child cranes linked together, as if they were riding on an ox-drawn carriage to go see the cherry blossoms.
Tsuri-fune (literally “Fishing Boat”) is made by forming repeated mountain and valley folds, based on a plan drawing made from multiple squares. Like the other figure, this intricate and elegant Renzuru creation is also made from one sheet of Japanese paper. The parent crane at the bottom looks like a boat, and the small child cranes appear to be flying toward the sky with their wings all connected together.
How to Make a Simple Renzuru Figure
Yurami Otsuka holds workshops and lectures about Renzuru in Kuwana City. She says that a large point of appeal regarding Renzuru figures is in their design, which can be enjoyed in the modern age as well. She adds that because there are plans (plan drawings) for Renzuru figures, many people can create them in the present day, too. Also, she welcomes you to come to Japan and experience making Renzuru figures with Japanese paper, as the paper is made to be extremely robust and thin, allowing you to produce intricate Renzuru creations. For this article, she described how to create Yatsu-hashi (zig-zag bridge in English), a type of Renzuru figure that is relatively easy to make among such Renzuru figures.
- Draw a rectangle and divide it into eight equal parts. (Aim to make each unit about 3 to 4 inches on each side)
- Make cuts along the solid lines, leaving about 1/8 inch of space around the points marked A to H.
- Fold the paper in the direction of the circles to make triangular shapes.
- Make an origami crane out of each square. The end of this article shows how to fold a crane.
- Lastly, make the parts with the circles into beaks. All the cranes should face inwards.
The method for folding a single crane is the fundamental element of making any Renzuru. The Kuwana City Museum has sets called “Kuwana no Senbazuru Stencils” including an illustrated leaflet on “how to fold a crane,” as well as Japanese paper with pre-printed lines on it, letting you make simple Renzuru figures. Stores in and around Kuwana City that engage in many activities to promote Renzuru also sell sets called “Tsunagaru Orizuru” that help you have fun with Renzuru even more easily. These sets feature pre-stenciled paper with cuts and guidelines that let you make six types of Renzuru figures without needing to use scissors.
Renzuru Spreads Its Wings Across the World
Renzuru is enjoyed by Japanese people, as well as visitors to Japan. This style of art has even spread its wings and moved abroad, where people have fun with it too. The G7 Ise-Shima Summit was held in 2016 in Mie Prefecture, and a related event called the Junior Summit in Mie was also held at the same time, where children from the seven participating countries were given Renzuru figures as gifts, and Kuwana City held international exchange sessions related to Renzuru. Ochanomizu Origami Kaikan in Tokyo has welcomed foreign trainees for many years, and holds international exchange events with origami. In 2008, it offered Renzuru flags for an event marking the 100th anniversary of Japanese people migrating to Brazil. Moreover, a concert hall in Matsumoto City, Nagano Prefecture, held an orchestral performance in December 1999 and featured a Renzuru exhibit with 2,000 cranes that became a hot topic.
With linked cranes all made from one sheet of paper, the art of Renzuru is sure to see cultural communication across borders in the future too, as it connects with a wide range of people while functioning as a Japanese tool for communication.