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Dokuohtei Nakano

Dokuohtei Nakano burst on the scene of Paperfolding in 1969, when he issued a circular in English announcing his forthcoming Correspondence Course of Origami in English. The Course was to be divided into three, each having four lessons and each spread over four months. The cost of each part of the course was to be US$ 40, a not inconsiderable sum in those days.

At that time. Paperfolding was still largely divided between, on the one hand, Japanese Origami which was noted for its natural style and artistic elegance exemplified by the superlative work of Akira Yoshizawa, and, on the other, by paperfolding in the West, where the actual folding was in comparison often frankly clumsy, but which, under the leadership of folders like George Rhodes, Jack Skillman, Adolfo Cerceda, Neal Elias and Fred Rohm, had developed a pioneering virtuosity of technique which had distanced Western folding from that of Japan. Dokuohtei Nakano introduced western techniques of folding into Japan and presaged the present age, where Japanese techniques are just as complex and in some aspects even more complex in than in the West.

Nakano was born in 1929 and had an early ambition to be an artist. He trained at the Tokyo Art University and became a high school art teacher. After some years, however, he felt dissatisfied with the usual media of art and was looking for a new art form in which he would be able to express himself. Around 1966, he discovered Origami and immediately plunged into an intensive study of it, starting off from the traditional folds which had been known in Japan for centuries. He said that he found that his years of training in art had given him an appreciation of proportion and balance which enabled him to make rapid progress.

To his artistic approach, however, Nakano added a liberal admixture of geometry. He put the systematic investigation of bases at the heart of his studies and proceeded to extend the range of bases in a way that astonished the paperfolders of the time. While folders like Neal Elias, Fred Rohm and Eric Kenneway had succeeded in escaping from the bonds of the classic bases, most paperfolders of the day still did not question the idea that bases lay at the heart of all paperfolding. The 1960s were accordingly still dominated by the classic radial bases: the diamond, fish, bird and frog bases. The regular blintzed bses had been discovered. Occasionally folders experimented with other forms and, in particular, Akira Yoshizwa, to his great credit and for all his expressed dislike of geometrical folding, had published crease patterns in which the classic bases or parts of them were combined in the different halves of quarters of the same square.

Nakano took up this idea and systematically worked out bases which combined fragments of different bases. For instance, one half of a square would be bird base and the other half , frog base. Or the square might be subdivided into differently-creased quarters or other divisions. He devised a code of letters and numbers to designate them and by doing so pointed the way towards a new freedom in folding. His inventiveness was not at all confined to the bases he devised. He went on to use those bases as springboards for the creation of numerous ingenious and convincing models, almost wholly of animals and birds. (Although nuns had a particular fascination for Nakano. His first Chinese Course contains a whole convent full of them!)

The first fruits of Nakano's fertile industry were published in his Correspondence Course of Origami in Japanese, which appeared in 1968 or 1969. (Robert Brokop saw a copy when he visited Nakano in Japan in May and June 1969). The total consists of 154 large pages of 35mm x 25mm in horizontal format. The pages are printed in an electronic process of only fair quality and are mainly of diagrams which were apparently drawn by Nakano himself. Altogether its preparation must have been an enormous feat of industry.

Having completed the course in Japanese, Nakano went on to prepare a version in English. In this version, the selection of models is considerable different from those of the Japanese version and only about 65 models were duplicated. All the drawings were redrawn. The printing was done on a liquid electrostatic copier, and was somewhat clearer than in the Japanese version. The size and horizontal format remained the same, although there were additional pages of explanation in English at the beginning and end and before each section. 254 models were described in nearly 2000 diagrams. The English version appeared under the name of the Dokuohtei Nakano Origami Institute in 1970 in a limited issue of 150 copies. The original edition was accompanied with photographs of some of the models and actual folded examples of all of the models. A supply of high-quality washi paper was also included. It was a truly sumptuous and remarkable production. I missed the original version, and the copy I received was without the photographs, folded models or washi paper, but I also received the Japanese version. I counted myself very fortunate to have these remarkable documents and immediately had them bound. The version without frills continued to be advertised in the Origami Companion throughout its existence.

Because the format of correspondence courses was chosen, the total number of copies issued was very small, and perhaps because of this, Nakano's Origami Courses did not have the impact that they might have had if they had been published as ordinary commercial books But would such a book have been an economic proposition? I remember that Robert Harbin obtained a copy and a very few members of the British Origami Society saw it, but not enough to make any great impact. This was certainly what happened in the West, but I have been unable to discover what influence Nakano's work had on folders in Japan. He seems to have worked in comparative isolation and did not mix very much with other folders. Nevertheless, it would be remarkable if his vast pioneering work had no influence at all.

One person who did receive a copy was Gershon Legman then living in France. To say that he was impressed would be an under-statement. He wrote a long eulogy several pages long which filled a special edition of the Origamian issued at the end of 1971. In it Legman enthusiastically praised both the manner of production and also the paperfolding and model content of the Courses.. Gershon Legman had watched the growth of modern folding from its origins which derived from his own researches and his discovery of the work of Akira Yoshizawa and Ligia Montoya. He had seen how the identification and specification of bases had enabled western paperfolders to make remarkable advances in the creation of models. In fact his own perception of the nature of paperfolding had developed before folders had begun to free themselves from the restrictions that the bases themselves imposed and he found it difficult to move onwards from this viewpoint. At his request, I sent him specimen animals folded for him by David brill, Max Hulme and Martin Wall. They were largely free-folded and if they had bases, they were merely steps in the folding sequences. But Legman continued to plead for the "bases" to be recorded and published.

Here in the work of Nakano, Legman's appetite for bases was satisfied beyond all expectation. Moreover, the bases were intelligently used to create a huge variety of interesting models. Legman's praise for Nakano became unstinting. He wrote: "A new artist in paper-folding has now arisen who can be compared without any hedging or weighting of terms to Yoshizawa" and "As Yoshizawa is and must always remain, the Beethoven who liberated origami, Nakano is its Bach, and his monumental 'New Correspondence Course' is the Well-Tempered Clavichord of the art we love". Legman later admitted that by making excessive comparisons such as these, he greatly hurt Mr. Yoshizawa, whom he had introduced to the West through the great exhibition of Yoshizawa's work in Amsterdam in 1955.

Subsequently, Nakano issued a new version of the Japanese Course with much better printing and with pages 18mm x 25.5mm in vertical format. It was considerably changed from the first Japanese version and include photographs and more advanced models, including some which used the "Box-pleating" technique developed by Neal Elias. So far as I know, the new edition did not appear. in an English version.

Nakano seems to have worked in isolation in Japan, but he began to establish contacts with Western folders, among them Sam Ranlett, with whomhe appears to have had a long correspondence. When Sam married Thelma Mason in 1972, Nakano sent Sam congratulations in the form of six new flapping birds, in the same page-format as his origami Courses. This was an obvious reference to Sam Randlett's own origami periodical, "the Flapping Bird". Nakano also made the acquaintance of Eric Kenneway, apparently during Eric's visit to Japan as a result of winning a travelling scholarship, but Eric's style of folding portraits and figures in origami was far removed from Nakano's.

In 1972, Nakano started what was apparently intended to be an international magazine of origami called the "Origami Companion". Most issues were of eight pages and mainly consisted of models by Nakano himself. However, the second issue contained a short article on Origami in Peru by Francisco del Rio and the following four issues carried an article by Gershon Legman on the Blintz" divided into four parts. This was one of the few pieces on the history of origami that Gershon Legman wrote and it is an interesting light on his ideas about the history of paperfolding. Sadly, only eight parts of the Origami Companion appeared. Another venture that Nakano started in 1979 was called "The Origami Castle", apparently a kind of centre for the encouragement of Origami. However, very little was heard of it

Despite his concern with an origami technique which was very advanced for the time, Nakano also developed an interest in simple folding for children. About 1980, he issued six very small, elementary booklets for children in two boxed sets of three, each with a packet of colourful shaded paper. The models were mostly simple Japanese children's models, far removed from the kind of origami in Nakano's origami courses. About the same time, he issued three somewhat more advanced booklets in Japanese called "Ysashii Origami", "Tanoshii Origami" and "Yakana Origami". In 1985, Yasashii Origami was translated by Eric Kenneway into English and published as "Easy Origami" It was also translated into Dutch as "Speels Origami" and in 1987 a paper-backed version appeared in English under the changed name of "Crazy Paper". Eric Kenneway also translated into English three booklets in what was called the "Challenge Origami" series with the names "Koala Bear", "Butterfly 1" and "Flapping Bird 1". No doubt other books in the series were planned, but they never appeared. The only books Nakano has in print in 1997 are also children's books: "Origami Classroom " and "Origami Classroom 2", two board books boxed with origami paper. They, too, are simple books for children. Nevertheless, they are very attractively produced for books of their kind.

Apart from art and origami, the other great interest of Nakano was ornithology and it is reflected in the many birds in his collection. He came to Britain three times for the primary purpose of studying birds and on each occasion he was able to meet British paperfolders. I was able to attend two meetings held for him by the British Origami Society in August 1980, one of them at Staines, not far from London and the other at Mick Guy's home in Birmingham. I found him a very pleasant and cheerful man, with a mop of thick hair and a broad smile. (His hair has now turned to silver.) He taught us many models in the folding sessions we held and I still have the box of folds which I brought away with me. They are not, of course, the most complicated of his models, but they include some very elegant birds, a goldfish, and a very nice shrimp with long uncut feelers. There is also a kind of helmet with a crane at the forehead. It is interesting that they are folded from bicolour, shaded paper, just like the ones in his children's books.

The question remains as to just how much influence Nakano had on the development of modern international paperfolding technique. His personal achievement had been to combine the artistic folding of Japan with the advanced techniques of the West, which he had considerably extended. I assumed that he had in turn inspired folders like Jun Maekawa of Japan, whose work Kunihiko Kasahara featured in "Viva Origami", published in 1983, and possibly also folders in the United States, such as Robert Lang, John Montroll and Peter Engel, who were the leading proponents of "technical paperfolding". When I visited the Second International Conference of Mathematical Origami in Japan in November 1994, I was able to ask Maekawa directly (he speaks English) and he told me that he had not derived any of his folding technique from Nakano. I understand, too, that the American folders developed their techniques without any help from Japanese folders. Indeed, it was only subsequently that they became aware that Maekawa was working along similar lines to their own.

The conclusion must be that Nakano was a man before his time. There is no doubt at all that he discovered major advances in the design of origami bases. Yeven so, other folders did not build on his achievement. For instance, Max Hulme, David Brill and Martin Wall who were the great creative British folders of the 1970s proceeded in altogether different directions, using techniques such as box-pleating and ad hoc direct folding, and eschewing the classic bases, whether in their simple or in their compound forms. When Maekawa and the Americans again took up the classic bases and developed algorithms for the development of bases specific to the particular model they were folding, they started anew and from different premises. Since then, with the discovery of wholly new techniques, and using new styles of folding and new theories, paperfolding has advanced a long way beyond what even Nakano achieved. But this does not diminish his achievement in its own time.

After the publication of the Second Japanese Origami Course, we hear no more of Nakano's advanced work. Perhaps he burnt himself out. But the question remains whether Nakano would have had a more direct influence on general origami technique if he had persisted and if he had published his work in the form of books which might have achieved wide dissemination rather than in the form of correspondence courses which had a very restricted distribution. Nevertheless, the correspondence Courses remain as a monuments to Nakano's astonishing period of creativity and they deserve to be studied by the paperfolders of today and the future, both for his fertile ideas and as a treasury of creative folding.

David Lister Grimsby, England.

   
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