In the course of my (mostly inept) attempts at basic Origami lately, I became curious about the origins and history of the art. So after a journey around the internet, I’ve discovered a few interesting things.

Origami is itself a Japanese term, which means ‘folding paper’ (from ‘oru’, meaning fold, and ‘kami’ meaning paper). However there is no real evidence that this was invented in Japan. Paper was a Chinese invention that was imported to Japan in the sixth century. It would appear that Origami was around soon after, but it is possible that this was imported as well. China certainly does have its own paper folding traditions.
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Initially this art was used in religious ceremonies. Paper was initially very expensive to make, so it was not an item that could be casually used. An example is a Chinese funeral ceremony where yellow paper was folded into small ‘nuggets’ to simulate gold, and burned at the end of the ceremony. Over time, paper became more available, and origami became a pastime of the rich, and later more widespread. A Japanese legend states that a person who folds a thousand paper cranes will have a wish granted. This story has led to the crane becoming a symbol of peace in Japan.


Paper folding was not confined to China and Japan. It was introduced to Spain by Moorish invaders, though again it may have originated in China and come west via the silk road. Paper folding became popular in South America as it was introduced there by the Spanish. Over time various traditions are collectively known as origami.

Akira Yoshizawa (1911-2005), is known today as the father of Origami. Though he didn’t invent it, he is credited with developing it into the highly sophisticated art of today. He invented the diagram system by which an Origami pattern can be described and passed on. He also invented the technique of wet-folding. The paper is dampened before use, which allows it to hold its shape better and allows for more complex designs.

Origami techniques have been used in magician’s tricks, and was at one time very popular in magic circles. Harry Houdini wrote a book on the subject, “Houdini’s Paper Magic”, which is still in print today.

Harry Houdini’s Paper Magic: The Whole Art of Paper Tricks, Including Folding, Tearing and Puzzles

Origami has been used in education in order to teach children concepts of geometry and maths. It has many scientific applications. Folding can be beneficial with transporting items into space. It can produce complex shapes and is scalable to different sizes. It is commonly used for the correct folding of airbags for safe deployment.

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The most amazing aspect, to me, of Origami, is the fantastic art that can be made with it. A search online will show you some fabulous pieces that you would not believe come from a single piece of paper. Artists are always looking to increase the number of folds possible to make more complex structures.

Image from ViralizeIt

So, it’s not just a game for children. It’s a beautiful, useful, and elegant art, and is functional as much as it is aesthetic.

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