Origami, the art of folding paper to create objects or animals, is a Japanese tradition that is important in many celebrations. The true origin of origami is the subject of much speculation. Although the practice was the most extensive in Japan, there is evidence supporting a tradition of paper folding as an art form in China, Spain, Germany, and many other countries. Direct evidence is difficult to find as paper is very quick to decompose, so references in the published materials of the times have to be trusted.
The earliest pieces of evidence that can be found to suggest paper folding existed and was practiced in Europe are the picture of the tiny paper boat that exists in the Tractatus de Sphaera Mundi (1490). Western paper folding is thought to have been started by the race known as the Moors. Whether this knowledge was obtained on the silk route or independently-acquired is unknown.
The earliest reference that clearly supports paper folding in Japan is the short poem written in 1680 by Ihara Saikaku. This poem describes a dream that involves paper butterflies. These paper butterflies were made with the technique of origami to symbolize the brides and grooms in Shinto wedding organizations. This type of paper folding had become part of these important ceremonies by Japan’s Heian Period, which lasted from the end of the eight century to the end of the twelfth century. Samurai warriors also exchanged origami in the form of folded paper strips, called Noshi, which were tokens of good luck.
Akita Yoshizawa devised a large number of origami innovations in the early 1900s. These innovations included the Yoshizawa-Randlett diagramming system and the wet-folding technique. He spoke openly about the profound way in which he viewed the art of origami, saying he wished “to fold the laws of nature, the dignity of life, and the expression of affection into my work.” His work inspired a great resurgence of the art. This resurgence in popularity lasted until the 1980s, when origami experienced another boost in popularity. During the 1980s, it was trendy to study the folded forms’ mathematical properties in an academic way. This led the way to origami models that exhibited greatly-increased complexity. This trend continued into the 1990s. After this time, many origami artists embraced a return to simpler forms of folded paper artwork. With the advent of the Internet, it has become possible for people around the world to find instructions and step-by-step visual examples of how to fold different shapes out of paper. This has made it easier for anyone to become somewhat proficient in the art of origami, provided they put in the proper amount of time and practice. It has also led to yet another resurgence in origami’s popularity.
The art of origami is still alive and inspiring people to create beautiful forms from paper.