Nippon Day Eight: Origami

When I was trying to decide what subjects to explore this November, I thought about the American holiday of Thanksgiving. This was natural, since it's a big deal in our family and I have been planning the menu with one sister and the table settings with another, for the last several weeks. Quite obviously, they don't celebrate this holiday in Japan, but I decided to bring a little Japan to the table by making origami turkeys for each plate. Knowing that some of you probably like Thanksgiving as  much as I do, I decided to write about this Japanese paper craft, and share with you the instructions for these folded turkeys. 

If you're familiar with origami, you'll know it as the little folded animals and shapes, made from perfectly square paper, in either solid colors or patterns. It is only folded, never cut or glued, and the colors or patterns are on the paper, not added afterwards. This is modern origami law, which was actually influenced from a very unlikely place, Germany. However, the old tradition that started in the 6th century when paper was introduced to Japan, was a little different. 

At first, the art of paper folding was only used in religious ceremony, since the paper was very expensive. There is little mention of it until the Edo Period, though in the Heian Period, the legendary figure, Abe no Seimei (921-1005), is said to have made an origami bird that came to life  and flew away. It's a popular story, but is hardly conclusive. But in the age of samurai, the warriors are known to have given gifts adorned with noshi, a folded paper talismans for good luck. 

A crane given to me on my 19th birthday by my friend, the origami wizard.

A crane given to me on my 19th birthday by my friend, the origami wizard.

By 1797 the first origami book was published, clearly designed for paper craft as a recreational pursuit. The original origami were often made from different shaped paper, sometimes cut, and were usually painted after they were done. You might recognize those as the big no nos of modern origami. This is because, when Japan opened in the 1680s, they quickly adopted the German kindergarten system, much like we did in America. This came with the established German paper folding games, which had a much stricter set of rules. 

Today, there are many origami masters following these established traditions, but also many hobbyists. I once knew a chiropractor whose last name was Crane, every one of his patients left with an origami crane in hand. Wether you can make a hundred different animals, or only know one pattern, the process of carefully folding is wonderfully calming and satisfying. There is literally thousands of different patters of paper to choose from, some simple and others intricate. 

Origami given to me by my friend  

Origami given to me by my friend 

Personally I like to make butterflies and cranes, I can sit for hours making them, it's almost hypnotic. I also make and sell kirigami samurai and kimono wearing ladies (kirigami being origami that uses cutting). However, I have a friend who is an origami wizard. I'm pretty sure he could make anything out of those colorful squares. He once showed me a crane that he had made the size of a nickel, which he had folded using a needle. Yikes!

The crane has become the symbol for origami worldwide. It is legend in Japan that if you fold one thousand cranes you will be granted your hearts desire. It is partially because of this that it has also become a national symbol of peace. The other reason is a completely heart wrenching story about a little girl named Sadako Sasaki. In 1955, the twelve year old Sadako was dying of leukemia after having been effected by the radiation from the bombing of Hiroshima. Hearing of the legend, Sadako decided to try to fold one thousand cranes in the hopes of life. However, after seeing the suffering of the other children in the hospital, Sadako decided she would rather see world peace. She died before being able to finish, and was buried surrounded by one thousand cranes. A statue of her was erected in Hiroshima Peace Park, where she is depicted holding up a hand with a crane flying from it. Every year people adorn this statue with origami cranes.

Now that I've got you all crying, I'll tell you a happier story. In Japan today, their astronaut candidates are put through many tests, one of which is the thousand cranes. Not only does this show discipline, but after they are finished, having done them in one sitting, all strung together, the cranes are examined by experts. It is a great way to see how consistently someone can work on one repetitive task. 

Now to the turkeys. I like video instructions because personally I find the charts rather bamboozling. I found a great tutorial on youtube, which is easy to follow. It is a very simple pattern and shouldn't be hard, even if you've never done any origami before. If you don't have any origami paper, you can use any other type, so long as you start with a perfect square. For those of you who are more ambitious than I, here is a tutorial for a much more complicated turkey. Good luck to you!

Until next time, fold away my friends, fold away.