The History of the Art of Origami

One of our most popular workshops, especially for children, is the Origami making workshops. Whether it is bookmaking or flower-making, it is a fun way for the little ones to create some craft work and learn a new skill. 

The craft of Origami is popularly known as the art of paper folding and originates from Japanese culture. In modern times, it is used to characterize all forms of paper folding regardless of the culture it originates from. Japanese culture brought origami up to be a very high class art form. The art form has been passed down orally for generations.

Paper was invented in China around 105 A.D., and was brought to Japan by monks in the sixth century A.D. Handmade paper was a luxury item only available to the wealthy, and paper folding in ancient Japan was strictly for ceremonial purposes, often religious in nature.

By the Edo period (1603-1868), origami had become recreational as well as ceremonial in Japan, which means it consisted of a lot more cuts and folds.

An early origami folding technique

According to sources, the earliest reference to a paper model type in Japan is from a short poem by Ihara Saikaku from 1680. The poem mentions a traditional butterfly design used during Shinto weddings. Folding filled some ceremonial functions in that time period in Japanese culture; noshi,  a kind of ceremonial origami fold were attached to gifts to express “good wishes”. This evolved and developed into a form of entertainment. 

Paper Cranes at WNYBAC

According to the PBS documentary, BETWEEN THE FOLDS, the first known written  instructions for paper folding appeared in 1797, with Akisato Rito’s Sembazuru Orikata, or “thousand crane folding.” Orikata was the name used to refer to paper folding art before the 1800s when it morphed into origami. 

But the art of paper folding is not just concentrated in Japan, it was also a growing art form in Europe. The tradition of paper folding in Europe dates back to the 12th century or possibly before, when the Moors brought a tradition of “mathematically based folding” to Spain. The Spanish further developed paper folding into an artistic practice called papiroflexia or pajarita. By the 1800s, kindergarten-aged children in European countries such as England and Germany, and children in Japan were learning paper folding.

In the early 1900s, Akira Yoshizawa, a well-known master at origami, and others began creating and recording original origami art works. Akira Yoshizawa was particularly responsible for a number of new creations in modern origami, such as wet-folding and the Yoshizawa–Randlett diagramming system. His  inspired a new age of the art form. During the 1980s, origami enthusiasts began systematically studying the mathematical properties of folded paper. This led to an increase in the more complex nature of origami models.

Some Origami Flowers made at WNYBAC 

Modern forms of origami are most concerned with the challenge of folding one square piece of paper without using cuts and glue, like we do here at WNYBAC. The most common origami creations are the paper crane and boat. We create even more unique and beautiful origami pieces like at the Kids’ Origami workshop we had last weekend where the participants made beautiful paper flowers pictured above.

With such a rich history, it is no wonder why origami is still a very unique art form. And if you manage to look closely around our store, you might be surprised by a few origami pieces sitting around!

We would like to take this opportunity to thank our funders listed below, for providing support to WNYBAC's ongoing programs taking place throughout Western New York:

NYSCA M & T Art 4 Moore Zenger Group Evans Bank Community Foundation Baird Foundation
Cameron Jane Wendt Foundation StoryGrowing