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History of Origami: Late 1700s ~ Early 1800s

Let's go on the journey with us to see the Origami's history from the past to the present.

Development of Publishing Industry

Edo period (1603-1867) saw radical development in the publication industry.
Publishers sold a wide range of publications, for example
academic documents for scholars,
light literature popular among people,
woodblock prints called 'Ukiyoe,'
or so.
Practical guides were also popular.
They showed readers how-to techniques of various things such as calculation, cooking food, drawing pictures, and so on.
Books on Origami were no exception.

1. Evolution in Technique

[3-1] 'Hōrai' on "Hiden Senbazuru Orikata"

[3-2] 'Hōrai'

"Hiden sembazuru orikata (秘伝千羽鶴折形)," published in 1789, is the oldest book on recreational Origami in Japan.

[3-1] shows one of the models in this book.
This model consists of several Orizurus getting together.
These Orizurus are made of one sheet of paper and all of them are connected. Obviously, you need a very high technique to make this model.

The designer of these complex models is Gido (義道), a Buddhist monk in Kuwana (桑名). He played an important role in local culture as an intellectual person. He had an alias Rokoan (魯縞庵), and Rokoan was also known as a master of making orizuru. His works were so admirable that he presented his original works to the feudal lord of Kuwana.

His works caught the attention of a man named Akisato Rito (秋里籬島) in Kyoto. He was a writer widely known for his work 'Meisho zue (名所図会),' a kind of topographical guide of famous sights.
To edit this book, Rito picked up 48 works out of Rokoan's works and gave original names to each works. In addition, to entertain readers, Rito composed comic poems associated with the name of the work.

"Hiden sembazuru orikata" indicates how people enjoyed Origami in the late Edo period.
For instance, the level of technique necessary to make these works is far beyond that of Densho Origami. This shows that Gido had an extremely sophisticated technique of making Origami.

Also, some comic poems by Rito depict the busy street including licensed quarters like Yoshiwara (吉原) in Edo and Simabara (嶋原) in Kyoto. This suggests that this book did not target only children.

This book shows Origami had developed into an artistic handcraft in the late Edo period.



国文学研究資料館蔵三井文庫旧蔵『秘伝千羽鶴折形』六丁表 on 新日本古典籍総合目録データベース / CC BY-SA 4.0 (Retrieved 8 March, 2021)
3-2  Photo by the author
Masao, O. (2006). Tsunagi Orizuruno Sekai (つなぎ折り鶴の世界) . Tokyo: Honnoizumisha (本の泉社).

2. Origami in Pre-Modern Age

Besides "Hiden sembazuru orikata," there were various Origami models popular among people.
Now I will show you three materials that tell us what Origami was like at that time.

"Kayaragusa (かやら草)"

"Kayaragusa" is a private memorandum by a man named Adachi Kazuyuki (足立一之).
He wrote it for several decades by 1845 and finally, it was piled up to 232 volumes.
Among those volumes, various topics were recorded. Of course, Origami is no exception.
Some models are the same as those of the present day, but others have something different from today's models.
For example, there are models like dolls, which are unusual in today's Origami.
To make those dolls' heads, you need to inflate the paper like a balloon.
This is the unique technique making use of the characteristics of soft Japanese paper.
Being private records, "Kayaragusa" was not officially published, but it attracted Origami artists after WW2, and some of them published books introducing these records.
"Kayaragusa" shows what Origami was like in those days.

Works by Kuzuhara Koto

Kuzuhara Koto (葛原勾当, 1812-1882) is a koto (琴) player around the end of the Edo period.
After he lost his sight at the age of 3, he trained himself to be a master of koto playing.
He is known for his diary which he wrote with wooden movable types he created by himself.
His diary is a rare example that a visually handicapped person expresses his or her feeling for long years, which attracted some novelists like Ibuse Masuji (井伏鱒二) and Dazai Osamu (太宰治).

Sometimes he wrote in the diary that he made Origami for his pupils.
Although he lost his sight, he was good at making Origami.

Fortunately, and unusually, the works he made are still existent and they are preserved in Kan Chazan Memorial Museum in Fukuyama, Hiroshima (as of 2008).
According to Okamura Masao (岡村昌夫), a researcher of Origami history who researched Kuzuhara's works, there are some works like Densho Origami, but there are also original works designed by Kuzuhara himself.
In addition, he already introduced some advanced techniques that today's Origami artists discovered again.
Kuzuhara sophisticated the Origami technique by himself far beyond the level of Densho Origami.

"Orikata tehon chusingura (折方手本忠臣蔵)"

Chusingura (忠臣蔵) is a very popular program of Kabuki (歌舞伎).
"Orikata tehon chusingura" is a leaflet, on which famous scenes of Chusingura are reenacted by illustrations of Origami dolls.
The whole image of this material is available on the database below.

Image: 新撰人物 折形手本忠臣蔵 十一段 (owned by Ako City Museum of History) on Ukiyo-e Portal Database.

These materials indicate how people enjoyed Origami in the late Edo period.
On one hand, they made the same models as Densho Origami.
On the other hand, some of them had different ways to enjoy Origami. For example, they made dolls by Origami and reenacted a famous play.

On the next page, let's go to the modern ages.
--- but to understand Origami in modern times, we have to look at another country.
Now, let's go to Germany in the early 19th century.

Kunihiko, K. (2003). Origami (折紙). In Heibonsha's world encyclopædia (2003 ed.). Tokyo: Heibonsha
Okamura, M. 葛原勾当が遺した折紙:全盲琴師の人と作品. 人形玩具研究 : かたち・あそび : 日本人形玩具学会会誌, 20, 14-30. *in Japanese
Kunihiko, K. (2000). Saishin Origamino Subete (最新・折り紙のすべて). Tokyo: NIHONBUNGEISHA Co.,Ltd. (日本文芸社).


The information on the articles of 'Origami in the past' is based on the reference below. They were all retrieved on 8 March, 2021.

Etsuro, B. (1995). Origami (折り紙). In Encyclopedia nipponica 2001 (2nd ed.). Tokyo: Shogakukan. *in Japanese

National Diet Library. (November, 2008). 第151回常設展示 本の中の「おりがみ」.  *in Japanese

Masao, O. The History of Origami in Japan. Web-site of Japan Origami Academic Society. *in English

Yuko, I. (2012). A Study of History of Origami and Origami as Childcare Teaching Materials. Urawa Ronso (浦和大学『浦和論叢』), 46, 45-68. *in Japanese. An abstract in English is available.