The word “Origami” is a Japanese compound which means “paper folding”. There is evidence of the origami tradition, both in Europe, and in South Asia, so it cannot be precisely said where it was founded. The Chinese claim they have invented it because they, actually, did invent paper. Others say that origami originated from Japan, in Heian era, because of the story of Abe No Seimei , who made a paper bird and turned it into a real one. Even some German historians claim the “rights” to origami, because of the theory that the word “Origami” is a direct translation of the German word “Papierfalten” that was brought to Japan with the “Kindergarten Movement”.
Japanese origami began within the Buddhist religious ceremonies only, because paper was very expensive and not so available, at the time. Later, it was used in wedding ceremonies, where origami butterflies represented the bride and the groom. Even samurai warriors gave gifts to one another decorated with noshi, a good luck token made of folded paper.
By the beginning of 17th century, mass production of paper enabled origami to go mainstream in Japan. It was recognized as a new art form and the first written instructions came about then. It was the book called “Sembazuru Orikata” (which means “Folding of Thousand Cranes”) by Akisato Rito. The legend says that anybody who folds one thousand paper cranes will get what his heart desires. So Rito wanted to make it easy for the people to have a happy life (pretty nice of him, I would say!). Because of this belief, paper crane is a symbol of peace and well-being in Japan. The next book was called “Window on Midwinter” by Kayagurasa and, basically, it was about the customs in Japan, but, it contained approximately 150 origami models.
The first European origami was found in Spain. Some historians think that it came from Asia via the “Silk Route”, but others think that the Moors brought it from Africa, when they invaded this country. The Moors used paper folding only to make geometrical figures because it was against their religious beliefs to create animal forms (only gods were allowed to do that). Later, the Spanish developed it into an artistic practice called papiroflexia or pajarita (which means bird, because their Gods didn’t prevent them from creating animal forms).The earliest evidence of paper folding in Europe was the picture of a small paper boat found in “Tracatus de sphaera mundi”, the medieval introduction to the basic elements of astronomy written by Johannes De Sacrobosco. From Spain, origami spread to South America.
In the renaissance Italy, with the increase of prosperity and luxurious living, it became very fashionable to have table decorations made from folded napkins in forms of birds, sailing ships and other impressive models. Matthias Geiger published a book called “LI Tre Tratati” which contained table decorations of animals, dragons, fishes and ships in full scale.
There is also evidence that during the Victorian era in England, origami used to be a very popular children’s hobby. There are a couple of John Tunnel’s illustrations for Lewis Carol’s “Through the Looking Glass” featuring two simply made paper hats.
A German educator, and the founder of Kindergartens Friedrich Frobel in the early 19th century, included paper folding as an activity to help children develop their sense of creativity.
At the Bauhaus design school in the 1930s, origami was taught by the father of minimalistic art, Josef Albers. His methods had a big influence to the modern origami artist Kunihiko Kasahara. He used round paper sheets that were folded into spirals and curved shapes.
The true father of modern origami was Akira Yoshizawa. In his first monograph “Atarashii Origami Geijutsu” (The New Origami Art) he sets the system of arrows, symbols and diagrams called the Yoshizawa – Randlett system which became the standard for most modern artists. The publishing of the book helped him raise the money for the founding of the International Origami Centre in Tokyo. His most significant contribution to origami techniques was wet-folding, the practice of slightly dampening the paper before the fold, which made it easier to manipulate with and the finished product was allowed to hold better shape.
Today, we are allowed to see many different artists doing many different, original and astonishing works that include paper folding, so, I think, it is time to quit the debate of who invented it, where does it originate from, and just enjoy the beauty of art, because, after all, that’s the only thing that really counts. Period.