David Lister, one of the foremost Western historians in the field of origami history, was nice enough to send me his "TWO MISCELLANEOUS COLLECTIONS OF JOTTINGS ON THE HISTORY OF ORIGAMI". In describing the piece, he writes:

I intended to cover the whole of the history of paperfolding in three short pieces. However, the third piece, covering Origami in the West since the formation of the origami Center in 1958, still has to be written. It is partly because I am still chewing round how to select and organize the enormous amount of information, and partly beause I have been busy with other things.

Mr. Lister cautions that these pieces are by no means a complete History of Origami, and that there may be errors and omissions. We are all looking forward to David Lister's complete origami history in a published format, but in the meantime we can still learn so much from his wonderful "miscellaneous collections of jottings", presented to you here:

Two Miscellaneous Collections of Jottings
on the History of Origami: Part One by David Lister

      The great divide between the old paperfolding and the new came around 1950, when the work of Akira Yoshizawa came to be known. Yoshizawa's work appeared first in Japan with the publication of his series of astrological figures in the picture magazine "Asahi Graf" in the issue for January, 1952. His work then appeared in the West remarkably soon afterwards, with the exhibition of the work of Yoshizawa at the Stadtlich Museum in Amsterdam in November 1955. It was Yoshizawa who created the idea of CREATIVE paperfolding (Sasaku Origami) and he invented a whole range of new designs which owed nothing to the origami of the past. In particular, he explored the potentialities of the Bird Base and rediscovered the "Sideways Turn" previously used in Japan only in the traditional Crow. With this technique, he folded a whole menagerie of animals and birds. Still, however, Yoshizawa had to create his four-legged animals using two squares of paper. It was not until the development of "Blintzed" Bases in the mid 1950s by other folders and particularly by the American, George Rhoades, that it became possible to fold animals with four legs and a head and a tail without cutting the paper. Before that only very primitive animals with four legs were possible, including the famous traditional pig. Yoshizawa himself related how he had folded many three-legged quadrupeds, but he had destroyed them all!

origami pajarita

Origami Pajarita

      I must, however, qualify my statement that "modern" origami started solely with Akira Yoshizawa. He did, in fact have a predecessor in Spain in the early years of the 20th Century. This was the famous Spanish Philosopher, Miguel Unamuno, the Rector of Salamanca University, who died at the very beginning of the Spanish Civil War, on 31st, December, 1936. Unamuno had a philosophic interest in paperfolding, and in 1902 he wrote a humorous treatise on the Spanish paper bird known as the pajarita (known as a dog in Japan). Later, however, he discovered the bird base, and like Yoshizawa after him, he discovered the "sideways turn" and using it developed a series of somewhat angular birds and animals. Unamuno's folds were angular and lacked the grace and liveliness of Yoshizawa's creations. Unamuno had followers in Spain and also in Argentina and there was quite a large paperfolding movement in both countries. However, it did not extend beyond the Spanish speaking countries and the modern paperfolding movement did not derive from it. Only later was the Hispanic movement absorbed into the general Western movement.

      Modern paperfolding may be looked upon as a struggle to break out of the tyranny of the square. Yoshizawa and Unamuno developed the use of the bird base. Yoshizawa began to use two squares of paper. Then the blintzed bases were invented, followed by different techniques, such as box pleating, until, nowadays, there is scarcely anything that cannot be folded from an uncut square or rectangle of paper.

      Before 1950 (about forty years earlier in Spain), paperfolding was frankly primitive. I will give a brief outline of the development of Origami in Japan.

The Development of Origami in Japan

      Japanese folding has always been divided between ceremonial folding and recreational or play folding. Ceremonial folding (as of tsutsumi and noshi) is very interesting, but it is quite distinct from recreational origami and I shall not discuss it here. However, there was one small group of folds which bridge the gap between ceremonial and recreational folding. I refer to the Mecho and Ocho Butterflies, which were and are used in the Shinto marriage ceremony. They are classed as ceremonial folds, but in form, they are more like recreational folds. As far as can be seen, they date back to the Heian era, but I have never seen any concrete evidence of this, still less, a firm date. The butterflies seem to have evolved from the pleated paper covers used to cover sake bottles. They use the so-called "waterbomb base" and I would put them at the very start of recreational folding. They should have a place in any exhibition.

      Apart from the Mecho and Ocho butterflies, there is no evidence of Japanese recreational folding until 1600. It may be conjectured that it started much earlier, and the Muromachi period has been suggested. Again, however, I have seen no proper evidence whatsoever. From 1600, however, there is ample evidence of Japanese recreational folding and this has been put together by Satoshi Takaga in a book (more like a large booklet) which has a title in Japanese, which I understand translates as Origami from the Classics, or words to that effect. The book was published by Nippon Origami Association (NOA) in 1993.

      This book gives illustrations of traditional models from kimonos and other clothing and prints and books from 1600 onwards. They include boats, boxes, hats, cranes and indeed, many of the traditional models with which we are familiar. This is what we generally think of as children's folding, and the same models are familiar today in both Japan and in the West. An exhibition should include a selection of these traditional models.

      Parallel with the traditional models, from the end of the 18th century, there grew up in Japan a tradition of adult folding. The first evidence is in the famous book Senbazuru Orikata published in 1797. It shows how to fold a whole series of linked cranes, connected by their beaks or wing-tips. In the same year and from the same source came the "Chushingura Origkata". This is not a book, but a printed sheet, showing how to fold a series of human figures from the famous play. The style of folding is quite primitive and uses many cuts.

      Several other books or papers from the same source are listed in these two publications, but none has ever been found. Nevertheless, they may have been published and then lost. The famous Kayaragusa (or Kan no mado, so-called) from around 1850 is not a printed book, but a private hand-written collection of information apparently made by someone for his private use. The two volumes dedicated to origami contain both ceremonial and recreational origami. Some of the recreational origami is of the same style as in the Chushingura Orikata. This may be a collection of models from the missing books or from the same source. A historical exhibition of origami should include models from Senbazuru Orikata, Chushingura Orikata and Kayaragusa, as examples of the 19th century Japanese tradition of adult Origami.

      We have futher light on this from the Uchiyama family. You may have heard that Kosho Uchiyama died last March in his 80s. A Buddhist priest living in a monastery, Uchiyama was of the same generation as Yoshizawa, and shared an interest in Origami. In 1958 he published a colorful book of Origami for children called "Origami Zukan", which was compared at the time with Yoshizawa's "Origami Tokuhon", which was published the previous year, 1957. The difference was that Uchiyama's book contained more cutting than that of Yoshizawa. Although Uchiyama had some fine models, the standard of his folding was not as fine as that of Yoshizawa. Neverthelesss, he was a close rival and Kosho Uchiyama went on to publish several more books for adults and children, which (according to the newly prevailing ideas, frowning upon it), contained much less cutting.

      Kosho Uchiyama's father was Michio Uchiyama, who wrote several origami books. They not only made use of cutting, but Michio positively encouraged cutting. He said it made more efficient use of the paper and avoided having most of the paper bulkily folded up within the model. Michio also folded a large collection of traditional sitting dolls, all of which used cutting. He was also known for folding many-sided boxes, which did not use cutting.

      Michio Uchiyami learned to fold from his mother, who was a lady in waiting at the court of a noble in the 19th century. She built up a collection of origami models, which, unfortunately, were lost. Some were lost in an earthquake, and the remainder were lost in the wartime bombing of Tokyo. Kosho Uchiyama could remember seeing his grandmother's models, and he deeply regretted their loss.

      The Kayaragusa was rediscovered in the early 1960s. When Kosho Uchiyama saw a copy of it, he recognised it as the kind of folding done by his grandmother. So there appears to be a tradition of adult folding from the Senbazuru Orikata and Chushingura Orikata, through the Kayaragusa and Uchiyama's grandmother, to Michio Uchiyama and ultimately to Kosho Uchiyama.

      I think that any historical exhibition should try to contrast the traditional, or children's folding, with this parallel stream of adult folding in Japan, leading up to Uchiyama and to Yoshizawa, who broke the old mold and started the revolution which led to modern origami.

The Development of Origami in Germany

      In these notes, I have not dealt with paperfolding in Europe. I will try to do this in a later section. I have mentioned Unamuno. The other great name in Europe is Friedrich Froebel (1782-1852), the German founder of the Kindergarten Movement. Froebel introduced paperfolding into the kindergartens as one of the children's recreations, but it was developed mainly by his followers after his death.

      The Kindergarten Movement was taken to Japan by a German lady, and it had considerable success there. Paperfolding was taught to the children and became merged with the traditional Japanese Origami. In fact, many of the models were the same. Children's origami was brought from the home and into the schools. Before about 1880, the usual Japanese words for paperfolding were "Orikata" or "Orisui" or even "Orimono" and I have, myself, suggested that the word "Origami" was adopted by the Japanese kindergartens as a direct translation of the German "Papierfalten". This started a debate in Japan and I was probably wrong in my theory. But there is still some uncertainty about just why "origami" ws adopted as the general word for paperfolding in Japan. It seems to have been adopted by the primary schools which had different origins than those of the kindergartens.

      Froebel himself never knew the Japanese word "Origami", and it was never used in the Kindergarten Movement in the West. Lillian Oppenheimer, the founder of the Origami Center in New York in 1958 deliberately adopted the work "Origami" instead of "Paperfolding", because she thought it was a more attractive word. The word "Origami" was also used in the titles of a number of English-language books about paperfolding printed in Japan in the 1950s (some of them by Isao Honda). But Lillian Oppenheimer was very influential in the growth of the modern origami movement and it is largely because of her that we use the word "Origami" today.

      I have incidentally mentioned Isao Honda and feel I should say more about him. He was a Japanese paperfolder, about thirty years older than Yoshizawa and Uchiyama. He made collections of traditional models and published them. His first book, in Japanese, appeared in 1931. A later book, Origami Shuko published in 1944, contained a section of Yoshizawa's models (under Yoshizawa's name). Honda also devised variants of Yoshizawa's models and published them later without any acknowlegement. In the 1950s and 1960s he published about twenty English-language books, all in the same style, culminating with his huge "World of Origami", in 1965. But be warned that all of Honda's work was either traditional or derivative and he added nothing of his own creation to the start of the modern movement. Nevertheless, the publication of his admittedly very attractive books helped to give publicity to paperfolding in the West.

      In Part Two I will write about early paperfolding in the West and then about the Origami Center and the revolution in paperfolding brought about in the early 1960s. One of the crucial factors in the history of paperfolding in the West was the coming of the Flapping Bird, apparently introduced by Japanese stage magicians in the 1870s or 1880s.

Continue to Part Two. 2012

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