Origami, a Brief History

The art of origami is generally thought to have originated in Japan during the 17th century AD.

It's hard to say exactly where and when origami originated because paper decomposes relatively quickly making it difficult to keep records. The art form most likely started in China around the first century AD and came to Japan sometime around the sixth century AD where it eventually became a cultural tradition.

Initially due to the fact that paper was expensive origami was an art form only enjoyed by the rich and was used for practical purposes such as folding letters. Samurai would gave each other little paper good luck charms known as noshi and paper butterflies were folded for Shinto weddings.

During the Edo period (1600 - 1868) new methods were developed to effectively mass produce paper. This is when origami started to fully develop into the art that we know today.

Origami instructions were handed/passed down person to person and no diagrams were written until in 1797 when a book called Senbazuru Orikata (How to Fold 1000 Cranes) was published. In Japanese mythology the Crane was considered a sacred bird. As origami gained in popularity the custom that one would be granted a wish or gain good luck from folding 1000 Cranes developed.

Once other collections of diagrams started to get published origami was officially given a name.

The name origami comes from the Japanese verb oru which means to fold and the Japanese word for paper, kami. Putting the two together yields the word origami.

Modern origami was developed in the early 1900s by Akira Yoshizawa who is generally thought of to be the grandmaster of origami. Akira Yoshizawa developed the technique of wet folding which involved dampening the paper before folding to give completed models more of a sculpted and three dimensional look. By 1989 he had developed over 50,000 models and published 18 books.

During the 1980s several folders began to examine the mathematical properties of origami. With the addition of computer software it was possible to create incredibly complex models such as the ones you see today.

Interestingly enough, Japan isn't the only country with a rich origami history. The art form was also discovered by the Moors of Africa.

While Japanese origami is famous for creating representations of animals, Islamic traditions did not allow for artists to create representations of living things. This was based on the second commandment of the Ten Commandments disallowing the creation of graven images.

The Moors instead explored the mathematics of origami and created elaborate shapes and tessellations.

When the Moors invaded Spain in the 8th century AD they brought origami with them and soon after it began to spread around Europe.


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