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Mecho and Ocho Wedding Designs

Two days ago Laurel Paquette wrote to Origami-L to say that she was looking for models of the Mecho (male) and Ocho (female) Japanese butterflies. She said that whereas she had found many informal butterflies in origami books, she had not found these ceremonial folds. From her letter, it isn't clear whether Laurel is looking for instructions for folding Mecho and Ocho Butterflies, or whether she is just looking for illustrations of them. There are, in fact, far more illustrations scattered in paperfolding books than there are instructions for folding the butterflies.

On 3rd January, this year, Jane Rosemarin also wrote to say that she proposed to give a talk on Japanese culture and wanted to make some traditional wedding butterflies. So far I have never managed to respond to Jane's request, and I am afraid that whatever I do now will be too late for her talk on Japanese culture. I have been planning to write a posting abut the origins of the Wedding Butterflies and how they are still used today in Shinto wedding ceremonies, but my fuller article will have to wait and for the present, I will limit myself to saying something, however inadequate, about the actual folding of the butterflies.

It is important to point out from the start that there are not and never have been any fixed designs for the Mecho and the Ocho butterflies. Some forms are more elaborate than others. The male (Mecho) is always a little or a lot more elaborate than the Ocho. Sometimes the butterflies are folded only from paper. On other occasions, they are also entwined with Mizuhiki strings, the red, silver, gold and sometimes black ceremonial strings which the Japanese use to accompany their ceremonial paperfolding.

Jane Rosemarin said that the butterflies were illustrated, but not diagrammed on page 35 of Eric Kenneway's "Complete Origami" and she said she had been able to reverse engineer something close with a waterbomb base. The Mecho and Ocho butterflies which illustrate Eric's page are among the simplest Mecho and Ocho Butterflies that I have seen and reasonably easy to copy. I think that Jane must be getting near, but reverse engineering can properly be applied only to an actual model and not to a drawing of a model which is observed from only one particular angle, so that some conjecture is also required.

In his book Eric Kenneway writes that Dokuohtei Nakano has written "Challenge Origami", a book devoted entirely to the techniques of folding butterflies, in which he uses the model for a decorative butterfly as an exercise in practising miscellaneous origami procedures. Eric Kenneway does not reveal that it was he himself who translated "Challenge Origami" into English. The Japanese text is retained in the top left-hand corner for each model and the English appears at the foot of the page. Interestingly, Toshie Takahama, who recently did, contributed the Preface

Curiously enough, while Nakano includes a wide variety of butterflies, he does not include either a picture of or diagrams for the formal Mecho and Ocho Butterflies.

Another more elaborate illustration of Mecho and Ocho Butterflies is shown on page 22 of Isao Honda's Complete Origami. The complexity of the actual paperfolding is no greater than that shown in Kenneway's "Complete Origami", although the butterflies are both distinctly different. However they also have attached to them elaborate mizuhiki knots. Surprisingly for Honda, he does not give instructions for folding the Mecho and Ocho Butterflies and the only other butterfly in "The World of origami" is a different and quite simple butterfly. However, with the butterflies, he illustrates what he calls a "flower ornament" for a sake container. It is generally thought that the Mecho and Ocho Butterflies, which usually, but not always, to this day accompany sake flasks and bottles, originated as paper covers over the necks of sake flasks. At first they were simply utilitarian, but later the haphazard creases were tidied up and then made more regular until the formal ornamental cover evolved. It is fairly easy to make. Fold a waterbomb base and then squash fold each or the four flaps as though you were going on to fold a frog base. Then fold down the apex where the creases meet at the centre of the paper,, to make a crease which encircles the apex, about an inch form the centre. Then "Balloon out" the apex and it will form a kind of bonnet which will fit over the neck of the container. You can use a wine bottle (or even a beer bottle) for practice, but a nice long-necked flask gives the best effect. Arrange the squash folds neatly round the neck of the bottle; tie with string of ribbon and you have the Sake Bottle Cover. Only this morning I glanced at our rectangular kitchen table and noticed that the tablecloth had naturally formed the same sort of long triangular patterns as it hung from each of the square corners.

When you have done this, it is easy to see how the sake bottle cover resembles a butterfly and with a little modification it can be made to resemble one even more. Perhaps the ceremonial Mizuhiki strings on the Mecho and Ocho Butterflies are relics of the string used to tie the cover over the neck of the sake bottle and certainly Honda assumes this and says that today silver and gold strings are used for this purpose.

Another pair of simple Mecho and Ocho butterflies is shown by Dominique Buisson on page 23 of his "Manuel pratique d'origami", together with a sake bottle and cover, but once more there are no folding instructions.

I turned to the most famous of all books of classic Japanese Origami, "Kayaragusa", generally known in the West as "Kan no mado". A reproduction of the accurate facsimile made for Professor Frederick Starr is contained in " A Japanese Paper-folding Classic" by Julia and Martin Brossman (1961). The two butterflies are shown on page 3. They are somewhat more elaborate than those shown by Eric Kenneway and Isao Honda and they have elaborate mizuhiki knots. Two pairs are shown and the first pair are clearly made from alternate mountain and valley creases radiating round the centre of the paper. However, the second pair are made differently. Instead of beginning with a diagonal crease from corner to corner, the "diagonal" crease is made some way from the centre of the paper, so that the edges of the folded paper do not coincide This makes for a more decorative butterfly, which would be very attractive if the paper used was of different colours on each side. As I understand it, however, when Kayaragusa was compiled, only white paper was used for ceremonial folding, or for that matter for any sort of origami. The Brossmans state that the butterflies illustrated in Kayaragusa are according to the Ogasawara school of etiquette, which is the style often used by most of the Japanese people, except for the aristocracy, who followed the Ise School being the school of etiquette favoured by the Imperial family.

Kayaraguse gives folding diagrams and instructions for every other model in the book, but not for the Mecho and Ocho Butterflies. It sometimes seems that there is a taboo against instructions for the Mecho and Ocho Butterflies!. However, on page 7, instructions are given for two kinds of wrappers (tsutsumi) for pepper. And very curiously, the resulting folds closely resemble Mecho and Ocho butterflies! As with the butterflies, the mountain and valley creases for the pepper wrappers radiate from the centre of the paper.

In "Papiers Japonais", Francoise Pireau reproduces an old Japanese illustration of a somewhat looser-folded pair of butterflies on page 105. On page 120, she shows a print of two ladies engaged in the tea ceremony in which the same butterflies are used to decorate a kettle and another container. On the same page she give a drawing of the front and back of another very simple butterfly tied with mizuhiki string.

The most elaborate Mecho and Ocho Butterflies that I have found so far are on pages 64 and 65 of Dominique Buisson's "The Art of Japanese Paper" They are folded from paper which is red on one side and white on the other and with a gold border. The mizuhiki strings are elaborately knotted. The Mecho butterfly has a crane attached woven out of white mizuhiki string, while the Ocho butterfly has a tortoise woven from golden string. Both the crane and the tortoise symbolise long life. These elaborate butterflies are not, however, attached to sake bottles, but decorate substantial wooden sake casks. Buisson does not give any directions for folding the butterflies he illustrates.

I have left until last the one book in which instructions are given for the folding of Mecho and Ocho Butterflies. This is "Wrapping Origami" by Yoshihide Momotani, published in 1993 by Seibundo Shinkosha (ISBN 4-416-89320-5) and probably still in print. It is a fascinating book of Japanese tsutsumi (wrappers), both formal, informal and utilitarian and it deserves to be known much better than it is The book is written Japanese, but headings and names of folds are given in English, and the diagrams are crystal clear, so that is remains accessible for people who do not read Japanese. As Yoshihide Momotani has pointed out elsewhere, the Mecho and Ocho Butterflies are not wrappers. They are decorations, but they are so closely associated with formal wrappers that he includes them in his book on pages 110 to 113, under the heading of "Classical Papilionaceous Noshi". He gives instructions for three different pairs of male and female butterflies, one pair of which he describes as "formal" and the other as "regular". The third pair is from Kayaragusa, but he folds from paper having a red border. He illustrates how one of the male butterflies may be decorated with mizuhiki strings, but he does not give any instructions about how to do this.

Momotani does not mention the sake bottle covers. This is surprising, because I have discussed the matter with him and I know that he is well aware of the possibility that this is the origin of the Mecho and Ocho Butterflies.

I have not said anything about the symbolism of the butterflies or their association with the traditional Japanese marriage ceremony. That will have to wait until another time. But I hope that this note will have helped to put the Mecho and Ocho Butterflies into some sort of perspective and that it has also pointed to one place where interactions for folding them may be found.

David Lister.

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