Origami – Old and new

During this holiday season, my preschool age daughter and I made snowflakes out of white paper. This is a fairly common art project done by preschoolers in the United States during winter. Small, white circle shaped paper is folded into a cone shape. Then, a pattern is drawn on the cone, and the paper is cut accordingly. After that, the cone is unfolded, and a snowflake emerges which can be taped on the window. When a few of these snowflakes are placed on the window, it creates a feeling of winter. As I was enjoying this event, the art of Origami came to my mind.

Origami is the ancient art of paper folding thought to have originated in Japan. Origami comes from the Japanese word for folding, ‘ori’ and the Japanese word for paper, ‘kami’. Evidence shows that the practice of origami began in Japan in the early 700s. There is some dispute among experts as to whether this art form originated in Japan or whether it came from China. Moreover, there is evidence of paper folding in Europe also but it was much later. Initially, since paper was a valuable commodity, origami was used for ceremonial functions by the aristocrats. As paper became more affordable, origami became a hobby and was used for recreation and became popular. There are different schools of thought as to the definition of Origami. Some experts believe that only a single sheet of square shaped paper should be used while others allow more than one sheet of paper. Similarly, some experts believe that the paper should not be cut while others allow cutting. Inspite of all possible origins of origami, it is only in Japan that this art form continues to be revered and is a part of everyday life.

Japanese school children might learn origami shapes from their parents and grandparents. The best known shape is the crane ‘ozizuru’. Throughout history, Japanese women and children have pursued this activity more than the men and boys. It is a common practice for girls to create one thousand paper cranes and connect them with a thread for hanging with the belief that one’s wishes will come true. If a classmate or friend is ill, the fellow students will send that person one thousand cranes. You will see them in parks signifying peace. In addition to the recreational pleasure which origami provides, it has been recognized as an educational tool for teaching children to follow precise directions, and geometric shapes and concepts.

Currently, in the west, origami is being pursued by adults as an hobby. There are classes offered for origami. There are several organizations, societies which have formed for people interested in origami. Just imagine if everyone could make a paper crane, and then one thousand paper cranes, and then wish for peace.

Copyright @ Shoma Nandi Ramaswamy. All rights reserved.


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