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History of Origami: Late 1800s ~ Early 1900s

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

Modernization and Origami

In 1867, the Tokugawa shogunate (徳川幕府) returned its political power to the Imperial court.

From the late 1800s to the early 1900s, the Imperial government carried out rapid modernization.

The government invited many professional advisors from foreign countries, and they supported the introduction of various modernized social systems like politics, economy, transportation, telegraphy, etc...

Among them, systems of education were also introduced. After the adoption of the school system, the first kindergarten was established and many elementary schools were built around the country, which resulted in the growth of the literacy rate in the early 20th century. Magazines for children were published at this age.

These backgrounds led to the formation of modern Origami which directly descends to the present day.

1. Origami in Kindergarten

In 1875, Tokyo Women's Normal School Kindergarten, the first kindergarten in Japan, was founded.
According to the curriculum in 1877, 25 activities were provided to develop the children's ability.
You can see a picture of children doing 20 activities out of them on the link below.

Image: 二十遊嬉之図(複製)on Ochanomizu University Archives

The curriculum was modeled after Fröbel's system.
Therefore, the curriculum included Origami as an equivalent of Das Falten.

[5-1] A girl playing Origami

[5-1] shows a page of "Yochienho nijuyuki (幼稚園法二十遊嬉)" published in 1878. This is a book about Fröbel's Gebe, written by Seki Shinzo, the first president of the Tokyo Women's Normal School Kindergarten.
Seki picked up 20 Gebes and introduced them with illustrations.

This book guides Origami under the name of 'Shushi (摺紙)' as one of the 20 Gebes.
As you can see on [5-1], a sheet of paper is on the desk. It is similar to some models of Das Falten. However, a girl is making Orizuru, a traditional model in Japan.

As this picture indicates, while the educational system was constructed, Origami was introduced to education in kindergarten as one of Fröbel's Gebe. However, it doesn't mean that traditional Origami was completely replaced by Das Falten, but that they mixed into the image of modern Origami.


摺紙. Adapted from "幼稚園法二十遊嬉," by Shinzo, S, 1878, No. 18, Retrieved from National Diet Library Digital Collections, 8 March, 2021.

2. Origami in Magazines

Due to the development of education system, enrollment rate and literacy rate also gradually improved from late 1800s to early 1900s.
At the same time, modern journalism and publication industry was generated.
In these circumstances, publishers released various magazines for children and some of them had articles about Origami.

"Shokokumin (小国民)" is one of those magazines.
It was very popular among children for variety of its articles, including informative stories and reading materials about science.
Besides, "Shokokumin" put big effort on entertaining corners like quiz and comical funny stories.

Among them, there were articles instructing how to make Origami.
The sentence below is an extract from an article on Vol. 5 No. 21 (November, 1893).

Make valley fold along the middle line of figure 5, and you can get the shape like figure 6, but this is old-fashioned and not interesting.
So, take the step as follows, and you can make difference.

[5-2] figure 5

[5-3] figure 6

[5-4] figure 7

[5-5] figure 8

Images on the right side shows reproductions of figures from 5 to 8 on the article.
If you fold the model along the line '1' on the step of figure 5, you can get a shape like figure 6.
This model is known to people as 'Nisobune (二艘舟, twin boats)', one of the traditional Origami, today.
However, the article says that this is old-fashioned and not interesting, and shows another steps.
If you fold the model along the line '2' on figure 5, you will get the shape like figure 7. Then, if you fold a flap a little, you can make the shape like figure 8.
This model is also known as 'Damashibune (騙し船, trick boat)' or 'Hokakebune (帆掛け船, sail boat)'. Also, this is the same model as a model of Das Falten (No.10 on THIS IMAGE).

According to "Shokokumin", this article was posted by Kawai Junnosuke, a reader of the magazine living in Hyogo.
Perhaps, he might have got to know the new model before he posted this article.
Otherwise, he might have come up with the idea by himself while he made 'Nisobune.'
True story remains mystery.

Anyway, it is true that Origami at that time had a variety from traditional models to new modern model.
In 3 years after 1893, articles about Origami frequently appeared on "Shokokumin" and most of them were posted by readers. Magazine was the medium by which people exchange new information about Origami.


Photo by the author


Nobumichi, U. (1999). 小学生むけ雑誌のスタイルを開拓した「小国民」. In Shoichiro, K., & Nobumichi, U (Ed.), 小国民:解説・解題・総目次・索引 (pp. ). Tokyo: FUJISHUPPAN CO., Ltd.

3. Between Tradition and Modernization

[5-6] is a page of "Origami zusetsu (折紙図説)".

[5-6] "Origami zusetsu (折紙図説)"

This book was written in 1908 by Sano Shozo. He was an associate professor of Gakushuin, an educational institution for the imperial family.

"Origami zusetsu" is a practical guide book for teachers who teaches Origami.

Its contents are divided into two parts. The former one is about recreational Origami and the latter one is about ceremonial Origami.

[5-6] shows two models of Origami.
On the left side is Kabuto (兜, samurai helmet), a traditional model familiar to people.

On the right side is Buta (豚, a pig), the same model as of Das Falten (No. 22 on THIS IMAGE).
As this page suggests, both new and old models exist together in one place.

As mentioned above, in modern times, new models of Origami appeared in Japan.
Some of them were introduced from western countries due to the development of education system.

Others were newly created and got spread by media like magazines.
Traditional models and new models got together and they turned to be the origin of today's Origami.

In other words, today's Origami has two roots from tradition and modernization.


, & . Adapted from "折紙図説" by Shozo, S. (Ed.), 1908, pp. 24-25, Retrieved from National Diet Library Digital Collections, 8 March, 2021.

4. "Origami is children's play"

[5-7] Girls playing Origami

[5-7] is a picture of children playing Origami, by Miyagawa Shuntei, an ukiyoe artist.

Because Origami was introduced in child education, most of people got to have the stereotype as 'Origami is children's play'.
People didn't recognize Origami as a sophisticated art work like "hiden sembazuru orikata," but a kind of educational tools for young children.

This stereotype still survive in today's society.
If you are grown up in Japan, the word Origami will remind you of old days in your childhood.

However, after WW2, Origami has dramatically developed.
Let's go to the next page to see how Origami develops today.


折もの. Adapted from "小供風俗," by Shuntei, M, 1896, Retrieved from National Diet Library Digital Collections, 8 March, 2021.


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.