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December 2009 Archives

Fold, Crease, Origami!

origami christmas treeCountless numbers of beautiful hand sculpted statuettes can be created from a single square sheet of paper. The word Origami is a Japanese compound word; Ori means "to fold" and kami means "paper." Origami sculptures can range from small to large; from simple to complex. It also plays an integral role in Japanese culture and folklore. Known as the ancient Japanese art of paper folding, Origami has been around for centuries.

The origin of origami is a bit cloudy. Some say, since paper was invented over two thousand years ago in China, paper folding (known as Zhe Zhi in China) naturally had to be invented there, right? Wrong. Just because paper was created there doesn't necessarily mean that they perfected the art. So, by process of elimination, it must have started in Japan. Wrong again! That assumption is based on two stories from the Japanese Heian era. One of the stories tells of a poet, Fujiwara-no Kiyosuke, that sends his girlfriend a fake frog. The other story speaks of Abe-no Seimei, a famous Japanese cosmologist, who made a paper bird that transformed into a real one. Although both stories mention the creation of animal figures, it doesn't state that paper was folded to make them. The truth is, the art of paper folding actually originated in Europe. In the 1490 edition of Tractatus de Sphaera Mundi written by Johannes de Sacrobosco in the 15th century, an origami boat is depicted. But don't fret; even though origami wasn't created in Japan, it was made famous there.

Origami has very strong roots in Japanese culture. Samurai warriors used to trade gifts wrapped with origami to each other as symbols of good luck. In traditional Shinto weddings, origami butterflies are folded to represent the bride and groom. In fact, folding 1,000 paper cranes is considered good luck. We learn this from the true story of Sadako Sasaki.

In August 6, 1945, Sadako Sasaki was just two years old. She lived near Misasa Bridge in Hiroshima, Japan, about 1 mile away from ground zero where the bomb was dropped. By the time Sadako was eleven years old, she developed a severe rash similar to chicken pox. She was hospitalized and later diagnosed with leukemia. With only a year to live, one of Sadako's best friends visited her in the hospital and folded a golden piece of paper into beautiful paper crane. At first Sadako didn't understand why, so her friend told her the story of the 1,000 paper cranes. It is said that a folder of the thousand paper cranes is granted one wish. Inspired by the story, Sadako started folding them herself. Having an abundance of free time in the hospital, she would fold cranes out of any scraps of paper that she could find. Around mid October however, her condition worsened and she became bed ridden. With her family at her side, Sadako passed away short of her goal with only 644 cranes folded. Her friends finished the remaining cranes and buried them with her. In memory of Sadako and all the other children lost in the bombing, a statue of Sadako holding a golden origami crane was erected in Hiroshima.sadako sasaki crane origami statue

The Japanese have mastered origami and take it pretty seriously. Japanese children are taught how to fold intricate sculptures in grade school and many of them continue this practice into adulthood. Origami has greatly evolved from the simple crane and the jumping frog to extremely complex designs created by using mathematical equations to form the shapes before a single sheet of paper is folded.

Origami is a fascinatingly decorative craft. Normally origami paper has color on one side and is blank on the other, but double sided sheets exist too. There is also foil backed paper with metallic colors glued to one side of the sheet just as the name suggests. Most of the sheets are thin and similar to copy paper with the exception of Washi. Washi is the number one paper used in Japan because it is tougher than the regular paper due to it being made out of tree bark fibers or bamboo rather than ordinary wood pulp. Christmas ornaments can also be made. Take a look at our Origami Wreaths and Rings book for great holiday reef ideas. We also have a few other origami books on our web page with step by step instructions on how to fold your own origami at home. While you're browsing, don't forget to stop and take a gander at our assortment of Origami Paper (/category/origami-paper). We carry many different types of paper from shiny metallic to elegantly patterned Washi. has it all!