Saturday, July 18, 2020

The History of Origami

By Nancy J. Farrier

Bird in Flight - Single sheet of paper origami

Origami is the Japanese art of paper folding. Oru means “to fold’ and Kami means “paper.” The art began after the Chinese developed paper and later shared that paper with the Japanese, sometime in the sixth century. 

Insects made with origami
In its early history, origami was a ceremonial art because of the rarity of paper. Most likely it was used for religious purposes. When paper making became popular in Japan, making the commodity more available, the art of origami became more recreational than ceremonial. An early popular form was noshi, a folded chevron or wedge, given as a gift of good fortune. In 1680, a poem by Ihara Saikaku mentioned paired origami butterflies attached to a bottle of saki and given as a wedding gift.

Sembazuru Orikata 1797
Wikimedia Commons

As the industry expanded during the Edo period (1603-1868) the art became more popular and developed more intricate cuts and folds, making the origami design much more complex and very pleasing to the eye. The first written instructions for recreational origami were for the paper crane, published in 1797, Akisato Rito,  Sembazuru Orikata, teaching how to fold a thousand cranes. There were forty-nine ways to fold the paper crane included in the instructions.

Most origami was passed down by demonstration or orally, one generation showing another. The sequences of patterns would be learned by the younger generation to be handed down to the next. The challenge became to make something from a single sheet of paper without any cuts or glue. 

Bats by Robert J. Lang
One uncut sheet of elephant hide paper

In the twelfth century, paper folding found its way to Spain and to Germany. The Spanish called it pajarita, and by the 1800’s children in school were learning paper folding in both Europe and Japan. The European folds were based on a 45-degree fold, more geometric than the Japanese 22.5-degree fold. 

Germany was first to recognize the art form as an aid in learning geometry. The art was incorporated into the school systems. Later the Japanese also adopted origami in their schools, but they used the German style of folding. This is why modern origami in Japan is a mix of Japanese and European folding styles.

Cactus - Robert J. Lang
One uncut square of duo paper

Akira Yoshizawa published Atarashi Origami Geijutsu(New Origami Art) in 1954.This book contained tens of thousands of original designs and popularized origami for today’s audience. The Yoshizawa-Randlett system of notation for folds is now the standard, using dashed and dotted lines to teach the craft.

Today, origami is often called chiyogami, and uses a single sheet of paper to make a piece of art. Only folds are used, not cuts or glue. There are other techniques recognized that incorporate the use of multiple sheets of paper to make larger works, or there is wet folding that allows curved shapes. There are also action origami designs that include a jumping frog.

Origami with multiple papers

Have you ever tried making origami? My daughters loved doing paper folding and made ornaments for a Christmas tree and decorations for a wedding. The paper today is very colorful and has pretty patterns, but I do like the plain paper that shows off the design. Which type do you prefer? Do you have a favorite pattern? 

Once again, July is here and this is my birthday. Leave a comment on this blog post with your email address before midnight PST and I will enter you in a giveaway for one of my ebooks – The Richest Knight – or a different one if you already have that book. 

She wants the security of riches.
He’s turned his back on the demands of wealth.

Nancy J Farrier is an award-winning author who lives in Southern Arizona in the Sonoran Desert. She loves the Southwest with its interesting historical past. When Nancy isn’t writing, she loves to read, do needlecraft, play with her cats, and spend time with her family. You can read more about Nancy and her books on her website:


  1. Happy Birthday Nancy! I hope that you are having a wonderful day! Thanks for this post and the amazing pictures. I tried a little origami years ago with my daughter, she was more diligent than I ever was. I think that this art form is something I admire in the talents of others rather than having the patience to do it myself.

    Linda Hutchins

    1. Linda, I understand what you’re saying. While my daughters are good at origami, I did not take to the art form. I do love looking at origami though and am amazed at what can be made from a sheet of paper.

  2. I have never tried origami. I like the multiple paper ones pictured. They are pretty!

    Linda - rayorr[at]bellsouth[dot]net

  3. Happy Birthday! Thanks for posting. I enjoy looking at origami but haven't attempted it.

  4. I did learn how to fold an origin kimono to use in a quilt or as a quilt accent. It is a beautiful art. Thanks for sharing the history.