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Kunihiko Kasahara

Kunihiko Kasahara was born in July, 1941 in the town of Okaya, at the centre of Honshu, the largest of the Japanese Islands. In 1950, his family moved to Tokyo, where Kasahara’s father, who had previously been an iron founder, started a business, making engraved copper versions of Japanese woodblock prints. Young Kasahara was set to work tracing copies of famous prints and he showed an aptitude for art. He decided to go to Nihon University, where he joined the art department and chose to specialise in broadcasting, thinking that this was more likely to give him a living than painting or sculpture. However, he soon found he had little inclination for broadcasting as taught by the university.

Kasahara was first introduced to paperfolding in his kindergarten, where the first model he folded was a paper cup. Even at a young age he recognised the geometry involved in folding such a simple model. Later he came across some folded lilies on the Buddhist altar in someone’s house. On another occasion he learnt to fold a baseball glove and a GI cap. At the time, however, origami was still for him part of children’s play.

When he was aged 15, Kasahara came across a book by Yoshizawa and he was able to borrow a copy from a friend. According to the date it must have been “Atarashii Origami Geijjutsu” (“New Origami Art”), a book of quite simple folds that was published in 1954. Kasahara quickly folded every model in th book and was surprised by how many things you could make with origami. Then he found a book by Kosho Uchiyama.which was probably “Origami Zukan”, published in 1958. This book greatly appealed to Kasahara.

Later, Kasahara, like the older folder, Toyoaki Kawai, attended classes given by Yoshizawa and before long he was beginning to create his own models. However, Yoshizawa had suffered the unfortunate experience that other folders were copying his models and passing them off as their own so that when Kasahara decided to arrange an exhibition of his own models Yoshizawa made it clear that he opposed Kasahara’s branching out on his own. Kosho Uchiyama was a Buddhist priest who lived in a temple Kyoto, but Kasahara managed to meet him when he visited Tokyo. From him Uchiyama Kasahara received a more encouraging response. Uchiyama, told him that he thought his models were brilliant and urged him to continue.

At this stage, Kasahara was already making a distinction between traditional origami and modern origami. By “traditional origami” he was not thinking of the traditional children’s folding which was, in fact, the inspiration for the new kind of “Sosaku Origami” (“creative origami”) developeded by Yoshizawa, but he was looking back to the folding of the Sembazuru Orikata of 1797 and the Chushingura Orikata of about the same date. He formed the view that Michio Uchiyama (the father of Kosho) was the first creator of modern origami (despite the fact that his work by deliberate choice contained a lot of cutting), followed by Akira Yoshizawa and Kosho Uchiyama. Kasahara acknowledged that Yoshizawa had introduced a different sense of beauty into his folding. Nevertheless, he seems to have preferred the work of Kosho Uchiyama. Certainly, while Kasahara adopted the same general manner as Yoshizawa of creating models developed from existing techniques and bases, his finished models are very different in style from those of Yoshizawa and nobody could ever confuse the work of the two folders. Kasahara has never used Yoshizawa’s technique of wet folding into his own published work.

In 1963 Kasahara obtained work in the publicity department of a pharmaceutical company called Zenyaku Kogyo and made for them a publicity film which used animated origami and earned him great praise. At that time, Kasahara became immersed in origami and in June, 1963 he was able to hold his first exhibition at a gallery at Hibiya Park in Tokyo.

Yoshizawa had first come to the notice of the West in 1955 when an exhibition of his work was held at the Stedelijks Museum in Amsterdam. However, news of other folders was slow to emerge from Japan. Then in the summer of 1964, Lillian Oppenheimer of New York unexpectedly received a letter from Yasuo Nakanishi, the Japanese historian of origami, who gave her the names of two creative Japanese folders. One was Toyoaki Kawai and the other was Kunihiko Kasahara. It was already Nakanishi’s opinion that Kasahara was the third ranking folder of modern Japan, surpassed only by Yoshizawa and Kosho Uchiyama. Kasahara was then still aged only 23, so this was, indeed, a great tribute.

Then in 1965, Kasahara’s first book of origami appeared in Japanese with the title, “Hana to ko no Origami no Hon” ( “Origami Book for Mother and Child”). The book contained mainly traditional children’s models, but he also included models of his own and a tribute to Kosho Uchiyama in the form of a sitting Buddha, echoing a series of models of sitting and standing buddhas by Uchiyama which had appeared in 1962 in his book “Origami”. Kasahara’s first book was followed by another book in Japanese in 1966, “Let’s Enjoy Origami from ABC to Creative Works” which was a more significant collection of his own work and contained many newly created models of considerable variety. Some two-piece animals followed the form originated by Yoshizawa and used frequently by him and also used by Isao Honda.

These two books were the first of many and Kasahara is acknowledged to be the most prolific of all authors of origami books, exceeding even those of Yoshihide Momotani and Tomoko Fuse. The total number of his titles is now approximately 150, and they have been published in Japanese, Korean, English and German.

In May, 1966, Kasahara held another exhibition at the Mitsubishi Electric Gallery in the Ginza district of central Tokyo. Soon after this, he left the pharmaceutical company and for a time he tried a number of occupations to earn his living, but his ambition was to make his living from origami.

In 1965, Mrs.Toshie Takahama had visited New York for the World Fair as a member of a party led by Toyoaki Kawai. There Mrs Takahama met Lillian Oppenheimer and she was privately impressed by the way in which the Western folders of the Origami Center freely associated together on equal terms. It was unlike the master and pupil relationship which was traditional in Japan and which had been followed by Yoshizawa and later by Kawai. Toshie Takahama decided to form a similar sort of members’ society in Japan. In 1967, after one or two attempts that came to nothing, she helped to form “Sosaku Origami 67”, a small group of creative folders that included Kasahara. Another member was Mitsunobu Sonobe, the inventor of the Sonobe module. For a few years Sosaku Origami 67 became very influential and a catalyst for exploring new ideas in origami in Japan. It published a magazine and books, including the substantial “Atarashi Origami Nyumon” (“New Guide to Origami”).

1968, Kasahara was commissioned to write a large-format book in English named “Creative Origami”. In some way it rivalled Isao Honda.s “World of Origami” of 1965 and might have ranked as Kasahara’s magnum opus, had it not been greatly surpassed by his later achievements. It made his folding accessible to the West. At this time he was commissioned by UNESCO to give a series of origami lessons in Tokyo, which took place every two weeks in Tokyo. Undoubtedly, as a result of these lessons, his confidence and experience increased.

In 1969, Kasahara made a contract to write no less than thirteen books on origami. At last he was able to devote himself whole-time to writing and origami. The effort required to complete the series must have been huge, but he succeeded with a combination of traditional models and his own creations. His models often foreshadowed methods of folding that he developed in later years. Some of the books included models from the classic origami works, Sembazuru Orikata, Chushingura Orikata and Kayaragusa (also incorrectly known as the Kan no mado).

In 1973, Kasahara wrote a second, smaller book in English with the name “Origami Made Easy”. Apart from instructions for models, it contained a series of short pages of text in which he set out his ideas about folding. Like “Creative Origami” this book remained in print for many years and was popular with English–speaking people and other Westerners.

In 1976, Kasahara wrote a serious boxed book about the Senbazuru Orikata , with clear instructions for folding series of multiple cranes. He also wrote at least two books about “Unit Origami” which was becoming popular and later became better known by the name “Modular Origami”. Contrasting with this serious work, Kasahara also wrote a series of four small books for children, which were delightfully illustrated in colour and were published in both Japanese and English.

An interesting venture for Kasahara came about in 1977, when it was arranged that he should co-operate with Alice Gray of the Origami Center of New York in the writing of a book of quite simple folds in English. The two authors both contributed models, although they did not meet and the book was put together by the Japanese publishers. Alice wrote the text and was assisted by Lillian Oppenheimer. For some unaccountable reason, the book was rushed into print with the title “The Magic of Origami” before it was ready and it contained numerous errors which the authors had not given the opportunity to correct, much to Alice’s and no doubt, Kasahara’s dismay. The errors were not put right until the second edition of 1985. Nevertheless, “The Magic of Origami” is an attractive book with an interesting variety of folds. It even includes spiral folding and modulars.

The models in “The Magic of Origami” were simple, but Kasahara’s attitude towards origami was about to change. Although he had always recognised that origami was firmly based in geometry, he had not regarded complex mathematical origami with any great favour and his own creations remained fairly simple.. However, in the 1970s something caused him to change his mind. It was the time when the revolutionary techniques of Fred Rohm and Neal Elias that were transforming folding in the West, were being brought back to Japan. While Kasahara did not adopt advanced mathematical techniques in his own models, he began to write books which explained the new mathematical techniques that were being developed in both Japan and the West.

The determining influence that confirmed for Kasahara this change in his convictions was his discovery of a young Japanese folder named Jun Maekawa, who displayed a fluent mastery of the mathematical approach to origami and also showed great promise in using this mastery of geometry to give creative results. .So impressed was Kasahara by Maekawa’s work that he selflessly sponsored the publication of a large book of Maekawa’s folding. Although entirely written in Japanese, it had the title: “Viva Origami”, a mixture of Spanish and Japanese. Maekawa’s work mirrored that of Peter Engel, Robert Lang and John Montroll in the United States. It used complex derivatives of the classic bases to make possible the folding of birds, animals, insects and sea creatures with all their many appendages. It was a method of folding which was soon to lead to the design by computer of specialised bases and creases patterns uniquely appropriate for a particular models..

“Viva Origami” was followed in 1985 by a book of similar format with the name, “Top Origami”. In this book Kasahara cast his net wider and featured a collection of the work of some of the leading advanced creative folders from around the world. But by no means all of the models were mathematically based nor were all of the creators primarily concerned with the mathematical approach. The Japanese text was accompanied by English sub-titles. Not only were there models by Japanese folders, such as Jun Maekawa, Tomoko Fuse, Toshikazu Kawasaki and Kazuo Haga, but also models by David Brill of England and Peter Engel and John Monttrol of the United States. Significantly, it included the Sonobe module by Mitsunobe Sonobe and also the magical Fujimoto Ciube by Shuzo Fujimoto, a mere token of the extensive and diverse creative work of a folder who has introduced a whole galaxy of new techniques into origami. The postscript to the book mentioned the veteran folder, Professor Koji Fushimi, an atomic physicist, who lamented the exclusion of elementary geometry form the school curriculum. Fushimi wrote: “If and when geometry is granted its former place in our system of education, I am conceived that origami should be an important material in its instruction”.

In October, 1986, in pursuit of their policy to spread a knowledge of Japanese culture round the world, the Japan Foundation gave recognition to Kunihiko’s contributions to origami by commissioning him to visit cities in Brazil and Chile to give demonstrations of origami. He returned home via New York, where he was
able to attend the celebrations for Lillian Oppenheimer’s 88th birthday

In 1987 “Top Origami” was translated into English with the title “Origami for the Connoisseur”. Lillian Oppenheimer wrote the Foreword for it. Being full of innovative ideas, it had an immediate impact in the West and for many years became the standard manual of advanced folding.

But Kasahara had not yet finished. In 1988 he compiled a new magnum opus with the title “Origami Omnibus” which expounded the geometrical approach to origami. Again, Lillian Oppenheimer wrote the Foreword. Whereas “Viva Origami” and “Top Origami” were basically collections of instructions for advanced models by individual folders, “Origami Omnibus” is more a systematic analysis of techniques in origami. It contains instructions for many models, but there is an emphasis on mathematical aspects of folding. Kasahara includes such topics as ways to create various shapes like pentagons and how to fold from them. He includes the folding of many diverse kinds of cubes and regular polyhedra, modular folding and “Iso-area folding”, a style of folding devised by Toshikazu Kawasaki, in which both sides of a sheet of paper are exposed to an equal extent. There are also sections on folding masks, cranes and spirals. “Origami Omnibus” is a cornucopia of ideas for both the intermediate and the advanced folder.

In 1997, Susanna Wellenberg of Munich arranged for an exhibition of Kasahara’s folding to be held at Wurtzburg in Germany, to coincide with the annual convention of Origami Deutschland. The exhibition included many models folded by Kasahara and summarised Kasahara’s own personal style of folding. It revealed just how distinctive his style was. He himself was present at the convention and he proved to be a very popular guest of honour, so much so that he was invited to attend the German convention held at Freising, near Munich, the following year. At that convention, Kasahara gave a fascinating talk about the development of his approach to folding and about the new ideas that were crowding into his mind. He made a close rapport with Paulo Mulatinho and Silke Schroeder, then the leaders of Origami Deutschland. In April, 1999, Issue 27 of Der Falter, the magazine of Origami Deutschland, was devoted to Kunihiko with warm tributes from Thoki Yenn of Denmark, Marieke de Hoop of Holland as well as from Paulo Mulatinho himself.

In September, 1999 Kasahara was invited to be the special guest at the convention of the British Origami Society held that year in Bristol, where he again proved to be a popular visitor, helped by the fact that he was able to converse in English. As in Germany, he spoke about his new ideas about Origami, and he illustrated his talk with a large album of folds that he had collected. He demonstrated a new interest in the history of origami, speaking about Froebel’s folding and also about a significant old Japanese drawing which had been discovered and which had been dated to 1734. It had been discovered by the Japanese librarian and origami researcher, Satoshi Takagi and was reproduced in his work, “Origami from the Classics” of 1993. It showed the design for the carved front of a wooden chest. The design includes a variety of traditional folds, including boxes, cranes, boats and the wandering flute player Komatsu. Of particular interest is, the “Temate Baku” or “Jewel Chest”, This is a modular cube and is the earliest modular fold that has so far been discovered. It is clear that the print of 1734 sowed in Kasahara the seeds of a new interest in the history and potentialities of the traditional children’s models of Japan.

It was pleasing to find that, Kasahara was already taking steps to write about his new ideas about origami. As a result of his friendship with Paulo Mulatinho and Silke Shroeder, he first published his ideas in German. In fact, the book he wote was divided into two parts with the titles: “Origami figurlich und geometrisch” (“Figurative and Geometrical Origami”). and “Origami ohne grenzen” (“Origami without Boundaries”), They were in full colour and the first appeared in 2000 and the second 2001.. The two books were quickly translated without alteration into English and were published in the New York by the publishing house of Stirling with the titles “Amazing Origami” and “Extreme Origami” in 2001 and 2002.

Although they are in a different format, these two books are very much sequels to “Origami Omnibus”.They are a delightful mixture of mathematics, history, ancient traditional folds, modular folds, cubes and even tessellations and other curiosities. The mysteries of pentagons and hexagons are discussed and also ways to divide paper into a variety of fractional parts. Froebel’s Star and his Folds of Beauty are featured. The print of 1734 is prominently featured and there a full account of the Tamate Baku and the method of folding it. Kasahara ventures into one kind curved folding with Thoki Yenn’s “Big Bang”, made up of circular pleats which are manipulated in various ways to form fascinating shapes. Notwithstanding the geometrical content of these books, all this is far from the advanced mathematics of folding and it is something that any intermediate folder can enjoy.

In 2003 Kasahara used some of the contents of the two books in a single Japanese volume, ”Origami no Miryoku to Fushigi” (“Origami of Charm and Wonder”), which is accompanied by a CD-rom. While some of the subject matter is the same as in the German and English books, this book is not a mere translation from them. Other things included are new. Very interesting is the inclusion of instructions for the German Horse and Rider, two folds related to the Pajarita, which have long been known in Germany. However, they have recently brought into the light by the researches of Joan Sallas, following his discovery of new two-hundred year-old examples in museums in Dresden. Another figure included is Komatsu, the wandering Japanese flute player, who appears in the Japanese print of 1734. Instructions for several slightly different versions of Komatsu are shown. For some reason, Komatsu was later replaced in Japanese traditional folding by the related and still popular figure of Yakko-san, but Kasahara gives instructions for folding him, too.. Kasahara also includes a very full investigation of the windmill base and its many forms and the models that can be folded form it, just as Robert Harbin did on a lesser scale in “Paper Magic” in 1956

It is now over 50 years since Kasahara came to the notice of the West. That is a long time and it is only ten years less than the period that the work of Yoshizawa has been known in the West. In that period Kasahara’s contribution to origami has been very different from that of Yoshizawa, but it has still been immense, not only because of his own creative work, but also because he has brought to general notice of the folding community the work and techniques of other significant folders such as Jun Maekawa. He has also thrown new light on traditional methods of folding and on those simple ideas of geometry that lie at the heart of so much origami. Kawasaki has changed his approach to folding several times as he has reached a deeper understanding of origami. Ever since he came to public notice as a young student, he has always looked young for his age and he has retained a youthful approach to origami. This has enabled him to keep pace with the constant new developments in origami. Although he, himself, has never practised “complex” or “technical folding” in the manner of Maekawa, Montroll or Lang, Kasahara has in his own way contributed much to origami. We can expect that he still has much to give us.

David Lister

22nd September, 2005.

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