History of Origami
The history of origami is under debate. Unlike other art forms, paper degrades quickly leaving no artifacts to suggest where origami originated and who first invented it. The information listed here provides a good overview of origami but is not an authoritative analysis of the subject. For detailed information regarding the history of paper folding, consult the works of David Lister: The History of Origami in
paperfolding.com and the Lister list from British Origami Society.
Textbooks will say that paper was first invented in China by Cai Lun (also written Ts'ai Lun) in 105 A.D. However, archeological evidence suggest that paper was invented even early than this. One can imagine that if there's paper, then the paper may have been folded as well. There is no evidence of this but, if it was true, then paper folding would have started in China.
During the 6th century, paper was introduced into Japan by Buddhist monks (sometimes attributed to one monk in particular, named Dokyo). It is here that paper folding became an art form and evolved into what we know today as origami.
Initially, paper was expensive and therefore not available to the general public. Paper folding, was not a hobby: it was for formal functions. [Photo: noshi collection from the National Diet Library.]
"Origami Tsuki" was a folded piece of paper that accompanied a valuable gift and it served as a certificate of authenticity.
"Noshi" was folded-paper that accompanied gifts and functioned as tokens of good fortune. More information about noshi here.
"Tsutsumi" was formal gift wrappers. These ceremonial folds were simple and symbolized sincerity and purity.
During these early years, paper butterflies were used to adorn sake (Japanese wine) bottles in wedding ceremonies - yet another very formal function. These butterflies, called “Mecho” and “Ocho”, are probably the earliest form of representational origami. You can see examples of mecho and ocho here, here, or here.
Paper folding also developed in Spain sometime between the 8th and 12th century. Historians believe that paper and paper-making was introduced into Europe from Asia via the Silk Route. It is not clear whether paper-folding was invented in Europe independently or if it was also introduced from Asia. Photo: "pajarita" (little bird) is almost certainly of Spanish origin.
You can see Pajarita in European paintings from the 1800's such as "The Merrymakers" by French painter, Carolus-Duran (circa 1870). The lady in black is holding on to pajarita. See more examples here.
Recreational paper folding was documented for the first time in 1797 in the book called “Folding of 1000 Cranes“ (Senbazuru Orikata)
. Next, in was a series of books called “Window on Midwinter“ (Kayaragusa, 1845). These books were about Japanese customs and there is two sections on paper folding. [Note: due to an error in translation, these books are sometimes mistakenly called Kan No Mado
By 1890's, the word origami was more or less officially used to refer to what we call as origami. Previous to this time, it was called "orikata", "orisue", "orimono", or "tatamigami".
In the 1950, Akira Yoshizana and Sam Randlett developed a standard set of origami symbols to describe how to fold paper into models. These symbols remained essentially the same and is used in origami diagrams today. [Note:
David Lister suggests that it was Sam Randlett and Robert Harbin who formalized the use of the origami symbols.]
Currently, there are thousands of published origami books. The art form continues to evolve and is beyond the traditional origami that we think of. Origami styles and techniques include: complex origami, mathematical origami, modular origami, wet folding origami, origami tessellations, and more.
To see a timeline, or different perspectives on the history of origami, please visit these sites:
- go to Home Page
- go to Site map
- let's start folding!