I’m sure many of us are familiar with the art of origami, and have some fond memories of following origami instructions (often without success). Maybe you have attempted to create a three-dimensional sculpture of an animal or flower from a flat piece of paper, or created a paper fortune-teller and wrote your own fortunes inside to predict your friends’ futures. In honor of National Origami Day, which is celebrated on Nov. 11, we at The Mirror have decided to research the history behind this Japanese paper-folding artform. 

According to PBS, the word “origami” comes from the Japanese words “oru” (to fold) and “kami” (paper). Paper was first brought to Japan in the sixth century by monks, after being invented in China around five centuries prior. Few people in Japan could afford handmade paper, and paper-folding was traditionally only performed for ceremonies, which were often related to religion. When paper later became more affordable and was mass-produced, paper began being folded recreationally. By 1797, the first written instructions for paper-folding appeared with Akisato Rito’s “Sembazuru Orikata” which translates to “Thousand Crane Folding.”

Europe also has its own history of paper folding, beginning in the twelfth century, or earlier, brought to Spain by the Moors. This mathematically-based folding practice was developed by the Spanish into an art form known as papiroflexia, or pajarita. 

Origami traditionally consisted of folding patterns that were passed down through generations via oral tradition, but modern origami is usually accomplished using instructions in books or online, and often includes models that are considered to be the intellectual property of their designers. The origami that we know today can be greatly attributed to Akira Yoshizawa, who, in the 1930s, designed a method of creating origami folding patterns that includes visual diagrams with arrows and other symbols. These patterns were published on a large scale by the 1950s, allowing origami to spread all over the world and causing this type of paper folding to be considered the standard form of origami. Yoshizawa also formed organizations with the goal of spreading information about the art form even further. These organizations spanned internationally, and were formed by Yoshizawa and other masters of the origami paper-folding artform.

Today, origami has been greatly expanded upon, and some origami artists, such as Jun Maekawa and Peter Engel, employ the use of complex mathematical theories to create their origami pieces. These impressive mathematicians design complicated folding patterns based on mathematics, and then use these designs to create amazing origami sculptures. This creation process emphasizes the aspect of origami that makes it similar to a puzzle: the challenge of creating a shape using one piece of paper with no cutting or use of adhesives. 

All this origami research made me want to take a crack at making some origami creations myself! I decided to create a frog, and then thought it would be nice if he had his own little boat and sailor hat to match. If you want to give it a try, the instructions on how to make one of these frogs is shown below!

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