Origins and traditional designs

The origin of the art began as Chinese Paper Folding. The Japanese origin began in the 6th century when Buddhist monks from China carried paper to Japan. The first Japanese origami is dated from this period[1].

The Japanese word "origami" itself is a compound of two smaller Japanese words: "ori", meaning fold, and "gami", meaning paper. Until recently, all forms of paper folding were grouped under the word origami, namely "tsutsumi", a kind of wrapper used for formal occasions. Before that, paperfolding for play was known by a variety of names, including "orikata", "orisue", "orimono", "tatamigami" and others. Exactly why "origami" became the common name is not known; it has been suggested that the word was adopted in the kindergartens because the written characters were easier for young children to write. Another theory is that the word "origami" was a direct translation of the German word "Papierfalten", brought into Japan with the Kindergarten Movement around 1880.

Despite the heavy influence in the modern centuries by the Japanese, the original Chinese name of "Zhe Zhi" (摺紙) still applies in all Chinese speaking regions.


Modern designs and innovations

Complex origami models normally require thin, strong paper or tissue foil for successful folding; these lightweight materials allow for more layers before the model becomes impractically thick. Modern origami has broken free from the traditional linear construction techniques of the past, and models are now frequently wet-folded or constructed from materials other than paper and foil. With popularity, a new generation of origami creators have experimented with crinkling techniques and smooth-flowing designs used in creating realistic masks, animals, and other traditionally artistic themes.

Joseph Albers, the father of modern color theory and minimalistic art, taught origami and paper folding in the 1920s and 30s. His methods, which involved sheets of round paper that were folded into spirals and curved shapes, have influenced modern origami artists like Kunihiko Kasahara. Friedrich Fröbel, founder of the kindergartens, recognized paper binding, weaving, folding, and cutting as teaching aids for child development during the early 1800s.

The work of Akira Yoshizawa, of Japan, a prolific creator of origami designs and a writer of books on origami, inspired a modern renaissance of the craft. He invented the process and techniques of wet-folding and set down the initial set of symbols for the standard Yoshizawa-Randlett system that Robert Harbin and Samuel Randlett later improved upon. His work was promoted through the studies of Gershon Legman as published in the seminal books of Robert Harbin Paper Magic and more so in Secrets of the Origami Masters which revealed the wide world of paper folding in the mid 1960s. Modern origami has attracted a worldwide following, with ever more intricate designs and new techniques. One of these techniques is 'wet-folding,' the practice of dampening the paper somewhat during folding to allow the finished product to hold shape better. Variations such as modular origami, also known as unit origami, a process where many origami units are assembled to form an often decorative whole.

  Sadako and the thousand cranes

One of the most famous origami designs is the Japanese crane. The crane is auspicious in Japanese culture. Japan has launched a satellite named tsuru (crane). Legend says that anyone who folds one thousand paper cranes will have their heart's desire come true. The origami crane (折鶴 orizuru in Japanese) has become a symbol of peace because of this legend, and because of a young Japanese girl named Sadako Sasaki. Sadako was exposed to the radiation of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima as an infant, and it took its inevitable toll on her health. She was then a hibakusha — an atom bomb survivor. By the time she was twelve in 1955, she was dying of leukemia. Hearing the legend, she decided to fold one thousand origami cranes so that she could live. However, when she saw that the other children in her ward were dying, she realized that she would not survive and wished instead for world peace and an end to suffering.

A popular version of the tale is that Sadako folded 644 cranes before she died; her classmates then continued folding cranes in honor of their friend. She was buried with a wreath of 1,000 cranes to honor her dream. While her effort could not extend her life, it moved her friends to make a granite statue of Sadako in the Hiroshima Peace Park: a young girl standing with her hand outstretched, a paper crane flying from her fingertips. Every year the statue is adorned with thousands of wreaths of a thousand origami cranes. A group of one thousand paper cranes is called senbazuru in Japanese (千羽鶴).

The tale of Sadako has been dramatized in many books and movies. In one version, Sadako wrote a haiku that translates into English as:

I shall write peace upon your wings, and you shall fly around the world so that children will no longer have to die this way.
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