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Simple is Beautiful – Art of ORIGAMI


ORIGAMI, the Japanese art of folding a sheet of paper to create beautiful 2D and 3D objects, has a worldwide following as a favoured hobby.  Its versatility, creativity, and simplicity continue to attract children and adults alike.

History of Origami

In a climate with four seasons, people needed different types of tools, furnishing, and clothing throughout a year.  This lead to taking a great interest in efficient folding, wrapping and storing unnecessary items away for next year. Folding is a fundamental part of everyday life in Japan.  For example, the Kimono is constructed to be laid flat, folding with a minimum of creases in mind. The Japanese expression for being organised is “precisely folded”.

When looking into the history of Origami, it goes hand in hand with the history of paper manufacturing in Japan. In the early 7th century, paper was introduced from China and was an essential part of spreading Buddhism and building the foundation of Government.

Paper was a precious commodity and only used in official record keeping and religious rituals. These included wrapping and decorating gifts to the Gods. Folding and exquisitely shaping paper for such occasions are said to be the beginning of Origami.

From Formal Use to Recreation

In the 14th and the 15th century, the culture of manners took its shape in the royal court and in Shinto shrines. Many ways of folding envelopes for gifts on different occasions, mostly originate around this period.  Particular ways of wrapping gifts (Noshizukuri), decorating wedding Shinto altar (Ocho and Kocho), and “Shide” paper used by priests are examples still regularly seen in Japan. Here, wedding gifts cannot be wrapped in the same way as obituary gifts for funerals.

At the beginning of the 17th century, the word “Origami” appeared for the first time for certificates awarded by warlords, to swords made by the best bladesmiths. By then, Japanese paper reached the apex of its quality, beauty and strength. The expression Origami Tsuki means “of proper origin”, or “guaranteed best quality”.  Properly folded papers were signs of care, quality and authority.

In the Edo period (1603 – 1868), as the price of paper went down, Origami became an art form and a favourite hobby. In 1797, the oldest remaining origami textbook, Secret of Thousand Folded Cranes, was published.  Many historical drawings and texts indicate its popularity.

By folding and turning, a piece of paper transforms into a variety of creatures, often animals and flowers.  When the available colours and patterns on the paper increased, people got creative in shaping more complicated items, using multiple sheets, cutting and slotting in several parts. This appreciation continued into the modern era, taken in as a part of early-stage education curriculum. It was around this time that Europeans discovered ORIGAMI.  Since then, it keeps fascinating people around the world.

In recent years, Origami has become more accessible as “how to” video clips can be shared with enthusiasts (and curious artists) around the world, through the internet.

In New York, an advertisement featured Origami with a caption “favourite pastime”.

Photo by Akiko Sugita


Application in Modern Age, Beyond Arts and Crafts

A Japanese researcher has solved the mystery of how rove beetles fold their asymmetric hindwing, in a paper published in 2014.  This knowledge, combined with the development of flexible, light, yet hardwearing materials, can expand frontiers in practical engineering.  It is useful when items need to be stored as small and flat as possible until required, for example, airbags, solar panels, invasive medical equipment, and foldable robots that manoeuvre through narrow paths and re-shape once in the cavity.

Another application is “reverse” 3D printing, taking an object and transferring it into a 2D sheet using an unfolding process.  It will make expensive engineering moulds redundant, and both customisations and new developments will be much easier.

 In principle, these studies and developments comprise the very basis of simple Origami.


Simplicity that Keeps Fascinating the World

 It started with only a sheet of paper about 1000 years ago.  Most of the time, it was just paper and fabric.  Origami is a hobby; something children do in kindergartens: it is traditional, and an art form which takes great skill to master. It is a beautiful manifestation of Japanese culture.

But as material technology advances, possibilities afforded by ORIGAMI keep fascinating researchers.  Four years ago, Tokyo hosted the Sixth International Meeting of Origami Science, Mathematics and Education, with over 300 participants from 30 countries, not only discussing new potential but also (and mainly) enjoying sharing their skills, new ideas and shapes.  The Seventh convention is scheduled from 5th to 7th September 2018 in Oxford, United Kingdom.

These will be hot tickets for Origami enthusiasts around the world.


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