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Comments on Origami at Adobe

In her posting to Origami-L this morning, Clare Chamberlain (now thawing out from the intense arctic conditions of winter in Perth, Australia) copied a short note about the history of Origami taken from a sample chapter in Design Classroom published by Adobe.

The piece gives me a chance to grumble about some misconceptions about the history of Origami which appear all too frequently and which get repeated from article to article. Without checking their accuracy. So here are my comments on the piece:

1. Statement: The name origami was coined in 1880 for the words oru (to fold) and kami (paper).

Comment: The word "Origami" was coined in Japan as long ago as (our) middle ages - I can't give it a precise date. "Origami" originally referred to a folded certificate, much like the Greek "Diploma". In the 18th Century it is occasionally found used as a term for ceremonial paperfolding and once or twice for recreational folding.. However, it was not normally used for recreational paperfolding until the end of the 19th Century. Common words for recreational paperfolding were "orikata" and "orisue". In the 1890s, "origami" was adopted as the word for paperfolding in the traditional Japanese schools in contrast to the German-inspired kindergartens which used words like "tatamigami", probably because the traditional schools were trying to emphsise the native tradition of paperfolding..

2. Statement: It started in the first century AD in China. They say that's when papermaking started and with papermaking came paperfolding.

Comment: The first rough paper was made in China around 100 BC. The Chinese made improved paper in the first century AD and no doubt it was suitable for folding. But there is not the slightest shred of evidence to indicate that paperfolding started as early as this

3. Statement: The Chinese developed some simple forms, some of which survive to this day.

Comment: Paperfolding could well have stated in China - or in Korea or Japan or, so far as we can tell from the absence of evidence of any kind - anywhere else in the Old World.. Most people (including me) incline to think that the Chinese were the first to fold paper, but it must be accepted that this is mere conjecture. Presumably, wherever and whenever paperfolding started, the first forms would be simple.

4. Statement: Buddhist monks brought Origami to Japan in the sixth century AD. It caught on quickly throughout the culture.

Comment: Buddhist monks brought paper making with them from Korea to Japan around 550 AD. But paper making is something entirely different from paperfolding. The Buddhists required the purist white paper on which to write their scriptures and this was the reason for their bringing paper making to Japan.The Japanese greatly improved the quality of paper made. But did they fold it at this period? It is sometimes alleged that paper would be too expensive for folding, but there must always have been waste sheets and scraps for people to play with. But we do not know whether they did fold it or did not. It is certainly incorrect to suggest that paper folding "caught on quickly through out the culture".

Paper has always been used frequently in the Shinto religion, but apart from the use of paper for scriptures, there are few instances of its use in Buddhism.

5. Statement: Paper was used in architecture and in many everyday rituals.

Comment: When I was a child I was told that the Japanese built their houses of paper. But this is nonsense. It does rain in Japan! Houses were and are built of wood. However the internal walls in houses were and are often made from strong paper. In more elaborate houses there are often paper walls today and I have seen them during my visits to Japan.. They are especially used to divide sections of temples where they are decorated with pictures painted by artists.

We know nothing of the use of paper in early everyday rituals. We can only read backwards from the Heian Era (794 - 1185) when, as far as we can see, Gohei were used to indicate the boundaries of sacred sites. Ocho and mecho Butterflies may possibly date from the Heian, but probably came later. In the Kamakura era ( 1185 - 1333) or the Muromachi era (1333 - 1568).

6. Statement: Many of the earliest designs have been lost.

Comment: Since we do not know what the earliest designs were, we are in no position to say how many of them have been lost. The indications we have from the first evidence of recreational Japanese paperfolding in the 17th Century is that the number of designs was quite limited so few may have been lost and it may be that we still have most of the early designs of Japanese paperfolding.

7. Statement: - since there was nothing written down about origami until 1797 with the publication of the Senbaduru Orikata (How to Fold One Thousand Cranes).

Comment: The correct spelling is Senbazuru Orikata, not "Senbaduru , although some Japanese prefer the spelling "Sembazuru"). This printed book was the first book of recreational Japanese paperfolding. It gives instructions on how to fold multiple cranes from a single sheet of strong paper cut into smaller squares, connected at the corners. This is a new and almost unique kind of paperfolding and it has little to do with ordinary recreational folding, except that it incorporates the basic design of the classic crane which had been known as single fold long before 1797..

The two printed sheets known as "Chushingura Orikata" (it is not a book) also date from 1797 and from the same source. They show instructions for folding simple human figures which are much closer to ordinary recreational folding.

However, there was an earlier book of ceremonial folding and knotting. This was "Tsutsumi musibi no ki" by Sadatake Ise (1717 - 1784) which was originally published in 1764. In 1865, a reprint was published in two volumes, one of tsutsumi wrappers and one of ceremonial mizuhiki knots.

Comments on Origami at Adobe 2

8. Statement: The Kan no mado (Window of Midwinter), a comprehensive collection of traditional Japanese figures, was published in 1845.

Comment: The so-called Kan no mado is a private manuscript compilation of knowledge about diverse subjects in 283 slim volumes resembling western exercise books. Volumes 27 and 28 are mainly devoted to paperfolding, both ceremonial and recreational. The compilation was never printed or published and probably never intended to be published. Only one copy exists, in the library of the Asahi newsaper in Osaka. It is thought to have been completed in 1845.

The compilation is understood to have been put together in 1845, but it is likely that the separate parts were collected over a considerable period. It is divided into five parts, each having the word "gusa" which means "fragments of memoranda" or, perhaps we should say, "scraps of information". Volumes 27 and 28 are in the section named Kayara-gusa, but I have never found the meaning of the word "kayara".

The name of this encyclopaedia has been a subject of much discussion. The Japanese characters for "Kan no Mdo" appear written at the back of the manuscript copy of volumes 27 and 28 made for Professor Starr of Chicago University around 1922 and now in the Library of Congress in Washington. Apparently nobody has found them in the original work in Osaka and it is thought that the characters are written in this way as a result of misreading the original characters which are in antiquated cursive script which is now difficult to read. Kan no mado would appear to mean "window of the coldest season" and it may be an error for very similar characters reading "fuyu no mado", which mean "winter window". However, "Fuyu no mado" is the title of the fourth of the five sections of the whole work. And, of course, this section does not contain volumes 27 and 28.

The modern Japanese prefer to use the name "Kayaragusa", which is the title of the second section. It has come to be assumed that this is the name of the whole encyclopaedia, but this must be incorrect. Perhaps there is a name for the whole of the work, but I have never heard of it. I suspect that more research needs to be done.

9. Statement: Origami flourished in other parts of the world, as well.

Comment. Perhaps or perhaps not. Let us see the evidence before we assent to it as a fact! There are indications that paperfolding was known in Europe in the Middle Ages and certainly by 1614, when John Webster referred to paper fly-traps in his play "The Duchess of Malfi". This date is, in fact earlier than the first firm date we have for recreational folding in Japan.  

10. Statement: Arabs brought the secrets of paper making to North Africa, and in the eighth century AD, the Moors brought the secrets of Spain.

Comment: The Arabs learnt paper making from Chinese paper makers captured during a conflict at Samarkand in 751 AD. It spread through the territories conquered by Islam. By 1036 AD the Moors had brought it to Cordoba in southern Spain, which was still occupied by them. Paper was first made in a Christian-controlled part of eastern Spain near Valencia in 1144. There is no evidence whatsoever that paperfolding accompanied the knowledge of paper making or that the Moors introduced paperfolding into Spain.

11. Statement: The Moors, devoutly religious, were forbidden to create representational figures.

Comment: Despite general assumptions, It is not true that the Koran or the Islamic religion forbid all representation of humans or animals. Persian art contains an abundance of pictures of human figures. However, in deference to the second commandment, the Arabs and Moors began to refrain from depicting humans and living creatures and what started merely as a custom of abstinence from depicting living creatures evolved into an absolute rule. (The wearing of veils by women is a similar sort of social, but not a religious development). But certainly, there are no representations of living beings in the artistic legacy of the Moors in Spain

12. Statement: Their paper folding was a study in geometry.

Comments: The Islamic peoples developed most intricate geometrical designs with which to decorate their buildings. To study them is a delight. And they employ their own kind of geometry. I have several books devoted to the subject.

But the interlacement of lines in Islamic patterns is wholly different from the crease patterns of paperfolding and Islamic pattern could not have given rise to paper folding. Incidentally, Moorish pattern often resembles Celtic patterns of knotting.

In "Folding the Universe", page 26, Peter Engel gives an illustration of a Persian manuscript which is a copy of an earlier but undated, Arabic text. This does apparently show the use of paper folding to design simple floor and wall tiles, similar to some of those in parts of the Alhambra Palace in Granada in southern Spain. But they are far removed from the interlaced lines of more complex Islamic decoration. But these patterns do not in any way resemble the patterns of recreational paperfolding. (They are more like the crease patterns of a map of Koryo Miura). And in any event, Persia is a very long way from Spain.

13. Statement: After the Moors were driven out of Spain during the Inquisition, the Spanish developed papiroflexia, which sounds to me like some sort of inflammation of the Pope's ligaments.

Comments: The kingdoms of Castile and Aragon were united under King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in1479 and they determined to reunite the whole of Spain as a Christian country. The Moors were finally driven out of Granada in southern Spain by them in 1492 . The Spanish Inquisition was an instrument for the repulsion of the Moors, but developed its savage ferocity as an instrument of suppressing heresy after the whole of Spain had been reunited.

The word "Papiroflexia" was one of the words devised by Dr. Vicente Solorzano Sagredo in Argentina in the 1930s and he wrote many books with "papiroflexia" in the title. Other words devised by him were "papiorola" for a paperfolded model and "deltoidology" for the science of paperfolding, from the shape of the classic bases when collapsed flat. I have no knowledge of the condition of the Pope's ligaments! And will refrain from comment on them!

14. Statement: Anyway, this technique is still popular in Spain and Argentina.

Comments: Yes, paperfolding is now popular in Spain and Argentina. But this popularity is largely to be attributed to Miguel Unamuno, (1864 - 1936) the Spanish philosopher and poet, whose paperfolding anticipated the work of Yoshizawa in some respects and inspired many followers in both Spain and Argentina.

But we cannot say that this popularity derived from the Moors. There are vague reports that paperfolding was popular in Spanish villages and even in prisons in the 19th Century, but when people came to search for this traditional folding, it had vanished without trace. Did it really ever exist? The Spanish like to claim that they invented paperfolding. But taking paperfolding in Europe as a whole, I find it difficult to see that Spanish paperfolding before Unamuno was any different from paperfolding in the rest of Europe. Spanish paperfolding has now merged with the international paperfolding movement, but you will rarely catch the Spaniards using the word "Origami" except when they are offguard

15. Statement: Modern origami owes its existence to a man named Akira Yoshizawa. In the1930's, Yoshizawa designed thousand of models of various subjects. He is the originator of the system of lines and arrows used in modern paper folding.

Comments: Yoshizawa was born in 1911 and started folding when he was aged about 3 years old. He was mainly self-taught. I firmly believe that although Unamuno started folding creatively at the beginning of the 20th Century, Yoshizawa was the principal originator of modern creative origami. He was certainly making new discoveries in the 1930s, but whether he created "thousands" of models in the 1930s is a statement open to question. We owe much to him, in many ways, including his system of lines and arrows. (But Robert Harbin also identified the common bases and named the basic moves of folding and Samuel Randlett pulled everything together into the standard western system we use today).

16. Statement: He exhibited his work throughout the west in the 1950's and 1960's and helped inspire many paper-folders in the west as well as Japan.

Comments: Yoshizawa originally exhibited his work in Japan, but his work was exhibited in the West by such people as Gershon Legman in Amsterdam in 1955 and by Lillian Oppenheimer in New York in1959. Of course, Yoshizawa sent them models he had folded for the exhibitions. Since then there have been few exhibitions in the West devoted to Yoshizawa, except for those small exhibitions he has put on himself during his frequent visits he has continued to put on many stunning exhibitions in Japan.

17. Statement: As origami evolves, elaborate folding techniques produce amazing models.

Comments. If anything this is a gross understatement!

18. Statement: In our class, Judith specialized in creature fish and sea creature origami. During the first two weeks of training, she produced a horseshoe crab, a goldfish, a strikingly beautiful sea horse, a so-so squid, and a lopsided clam, basing her patterns on Barbour, Andreozzi, and Robinson.

19. Comments: With no disrespect to Barbour, Andreozzi and Robinson, the complex folding of sea creatures originated with John Montroll and Robert J. Lang in "Origami Sea Life" (original Antroll edition, 1990.) At the time it seemed miraculous and I think they deserve the credit for removing all boundaries limiting what can be folded from an uncut sheet of paper.

20. Question: Does somebody on the list work for Adobe? I was quite impressed.

Comments: It looks like the work of a journalist who has been given the task of writing about origami. But as you may have gathered, I'm not at all impressed!

To Conclude: Sorry, Clare! But many thanks to you for bringing this item to our notice, even if I have pulled it about a bit! Of course, as always, I shall be very grateful to be contradicted where I have gone wrong or where my reasoning is faulty. And any NEW evidence will be MOST welcome, even if it contradicts what I have written.

David Lister Grimsby, England.

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