The Origins of Origami

It is very difficult to try to determine the history of origami since not even the experts can agree on what or where it was.  While most people think of Origami as being a strictly Japanese art form, many say it actually has its roots in China going all the way back to the first or second century.  Back in those early days, paper was so rare and expensive that origami was a pastime reserved for the wealthy.  Certain set shapes were fashioned from folded paper for special occasions like weddings, while serrated strips of white paper were used to adorn sacred objects in the shrines, a practice that continues to this day.  There wasn’t a lot of origami just as an art form at that time.

In Japan from the early 1600’s through the late 1800’s, several forms of entertainment were developed for the common people; origami, now as an art form was one of those entertainments. The popularity of origami was due in part to its simplicity and the fact that there was no need for special tools.  The popularity of origami continued to grow through about the middle of the 19th century then, except for ceremonial usage its popularity started to decline during the modernization of Japan.

It has been argued by some people that since paper was invented in China in105AD that logically paper folding must have followed shortly after.  On the other hand, since there are no known records of Chinese paper folding and the oldest Japanese records only go back to the 18th century some still believe that the invention must have been Japanese.

Buddhist monks brought paper with them to Japan in the late 6th century along with the art of paper folding.   Although paper was very expensive it was still used quite extensively in Japan especially in its architecture with paper screens, doors etc.  The Shinto religion incorporated the use of origami in its ceremonies and these shapes have remained unchanged for centuries.

Although the experts can’t agree on where origami originated, most of them agree that the Japanese are the ones who developed the traditional art form.  This art form was passed down from generation to generation with nothing in writing.  Due to all information being passed on orally, only the simplest designs were passed on.  Around the year1797 the first written instructions appeared.  The publication they were in was called the Senbazuru Orikata (Thousand Crane Folding).  It was followed nearly 50 years later with an encyclopedia that contained a full collection of these figures.

Modern origami has progressed to what it is today in great part due to a man named Yoshizawa Akira who in the early 1950’s published books containing all new figures.  In collaboration with San Randlett, an American, he developed the diagram symbols that are still used today.   Today Yoshizawa is remembered as the grandmaster of origami and there are thousands of origami lovers worldwide.  Thanks to the development of the diagram symbols it has been easier to record the instructions for the new shapes as they come along ensuring future generations of the information.




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