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Tato Folds

Kelly Read told us that she was using "tato folds" to send letters to friends and Larry Wood replied, asking her to expand on what they are and where they can be located.

Susan Wettling suggested Tomoko Fuse's new book, 4-480-87324-4, which I have not seen. But I do have Toshie Takahama's "Creative Life with Creative Origami Vol. III). This contains three folds specifically named "tato" and another triangular "tato", apart from various other folds scattered through the book which might loosely be called tatos. I find it very interesting that among them is a fold like the one which I found in a wooden paint box which belonged to my great-great grandmother. From the style of the writing on the fold, it must date back to the first part of the 19th Century. That is in England, not Japan.

Michael Janssen-Gibson suggested fairly recent book by Kobayashi, but I don't appear to hve this book unless it is one of those Japanese books of which I do not have translated the name of the author or the title.

Incidentally, in the West, we speak of "tatos" in he plural, but I believe that in Japanese, the word "tato" is both singular and plural, like the English word "sheep". Please correct me if I am wrong.

For those who do not know, a "tato" is a small kind of folded purse or envelope. Eric Kenneway gives clear explanation with instructions for making a tato in his book, "Complete Origami" on page 167. His account is succinct:

"A tato is a traditional kind of folded paper purse in which a Japanese housewife keeps small items such as needles, ends of thread, buttons and so on. Some people consider them to be useful for keeping postage stamps, too.

The instructions Eric gives start with a fish base and result in a six-sided kind of envelope which folds flat and which opens by pulling on the two triangular flaps which fall flat on the top of the closed tato. It must, however be emphasised that this is not the only way of folding a tato.

Tato are, in fact, one of the very oldest types of paperfolding in Japan. They date back to the Heian era, which lasted from 782 to 1185 CE. Unfortunately this period of four hundred years is so long that references to it are necessarily imprecise.. Tato are probably as old as the Mecho and Ocho butterflies which are still used in Japan to decorate flasks and vessels contain sake and which, it has been suggested, derive from the stylised utilitarian paper covers used to cover the necks of sake flasks.

The best information I have found about the origins of Tato is in Masao Okamura's paper, "Another View of the Word Origami", which is printed in English in "Origami Science and Art", the proceedings of the Second International Meeting of Scientific Origami at Otsu in Japan in 1994. Mr. Okamasa is explaining the use of the word "tatogami, which was one of the Japanese words for paperfolding which preceded the introduction of the word "origami" as the usual Japanese word towards the end of the 19th or the beginning of the 20th century. On page 530 he writes:

"During the Heian period, a gentlemen carried in his pocket several pieces of paper folded in two vertically and then folded in four horizontally. The way of folding paper, however, varied from one period to another. They also used pieces of thicker paper (called "danshi") scattered with gold and silver flake and folded in two to hold thinner paper inside. They always carried such pieces of paper mainly to blow their noses and to write down a poem or brief letter. There were also wrappers made of beautiful paper, which were designed to wrap women's cosmetics." [Mr. Okamura adds in a footnote here: "In the picture of 'Tatogami Shop' shown in 'Shichijuchiban Shokunin Uta Awase' (1500), one can see wrapper made of two or three pieces of paper piled and folded up in the way that two corners of each paper show in the front. The wrapper looks quite similar to incense wrappers of later times. The text says that the wrapper is finished luxuriously with gold and silver flakes scattered on it. The picture is the earliest visual source of origami."]

Mr Okamura continues: "During the Edo period, many pieces of paper were piled and pasted together and then reinforced by lacquering and tanning. The sort of cardboard thus produced was used as wrappers of cosmetics (called "kusidato") and as collapsible containers of different sizes. Today, the word "tato" means mainly a large piece of paper to wrap Kimono, when storing one."

From this, we can see that in Heian times a "tato" was a kind of paper container or envelope. Later it tended to become more ornate and complex. Although Mr. Okamasa suggests that today they main use for the word "tato" is for a paper used to wrap up kimonos, this does not appear to be entirely so The word "tato" is still used for a small purse-like container.

Readers of Origami-L will recall that a few weeks ago I posted a note about the Japanese word "Menko". Menko are cards or tiles use by Japanese boys and girls in a game in which they flick their own menko and try to turn over and win their opponents' menko. Sometimes they use a closed "puzzle purse" instead of proper menko tiles or cards bought from a shop. In the course of my research, it has become apparent to me that in Japan, what we know in the West as "a puzzle purse" was, in Japan, not only a menko, but primarily a kind of "Tato". Honda calls it a "thread container". Toshie Takahama calls it variously "case for little things" and "a stamp case". From this we may conclude that there was not just one kind of "tato". It was a generic name for a small envelope or container used for keeping small items, what we should call "trifles".

In another part of his article, (pp 527- 528) Mr Okamasa writes of the word "orisue" [another early Japanese word for paperfolding] as follows:

"Shortly afterwards [in the mid 18th Century] "orisue" began to bear its present meaning i.e. containers made of specific type of paper (a kind of "tato") used in the tea ceremony and incense burning ceremony."

In a footnote he adds that this fold was a paper box made collapsible by folding it down flat instead of twisting it.

This indicates that around the 18th century, boxes could be made flat either by folding them or twisting them. At the exhibition of historical origami held at the Otsu meeting I saw a hexagonal box with a lid that could be collapsed by twisting. We still find both sorts of boxes in Japanese origami today. Indeed, whatever the terminology in the 18th Century, twisting boxes are often called "tato" today.

The origin of this can be traced in part to Mitsuhiro (Michio) Uchiyama (1878-1967), the father of Kosho Uchiyama, who died recently. Michio was a prolific writer of books on paperfolding, but he deliberately employed styles of folding with cutting, including one style that continued the kind of folding shown in the Kyaragusa (Kan no mado) of the mid 19th Century. However, towards the end of his life, he developed a new and very different passion for folding "tato" which did not employ cutting.. His folds have been collected together in a splendid coloured book called "Origami flower Patterns" by Sori Yahagi, published in Japanese in 1988. Michio Uchiyama folds (without cutting). a very varied series of tato with four, six and eight sides. The beauty is in the folded tops of the tato which are patterned and interlaced in many ways. He uses two or more sheets of paper for his models, coloured differently on each side of the paper and the cumulative decorative effect is stunning. Most of the tato fold flat, but towards the end of the book, some are true boxes with walled sides. It does not appear, however, that Michio Uchiyama, himself uses the twisting process to collapse the tato which took the form of boxes.

Michio's son, Kosho Uchiyama took up his father's "flower patterns" in his book "Origami" (1962). In it he continues to develop the twisting technique and creates more three-dimensional boxes. Some of his boxes would obviously collapse like a "Moroccan purse", although it is not apparent that Kosho intends this. Nevertheless, since then, the twisting technique has been applied to boxes constructed in this way, both in Japan and in the West. It is an old technique seen in the west in leather Moroccan purses.

In particular, Yoshihide Momotani has developed the use of "twisting" , especially in his folds of flowers. Shuzo Fujimoto has made extensive use of the twist, to the extent of writing a book called "Twist Origami". The twist has also been frequently used by folders of origami tessellations, a style of folding far removed from the humble "tato"

There is still much more research to be done about tato, whether or not they incorporate the twisting technique. But I hope that this posting will give a glimpse into a neglected aspect of Japanese folding, and one which has surprisingly contributed to some of the advanced paperfolding techniques of today.

I shall be most grateful to receive further information on this fascinating aspect of origami, and to be put right if anyone thinks I have gone wrong. Please let me know of other instances of tato or other uses of the word and of other early examples of the use of the twisting technique, which has so often become linked up with tato.

David Lister

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