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What Is the History of Origami?

Alex Tree
By
Updated May 16, 2024
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Origami is a Japanese word that literally means “fold paper.” Researchers are not certain, but the ancient paper art was probably first invented shortly after paper was brought to Japan around the 600s AD. An instruction book was not written and drawn until nearly the 1800s, though there are thousands of such books today. Somewhere along the way, the crane became the most popular sculpture in the history of origami. Eventually origami paper art became popular in other countries, but it is unknown whether it was reinvented or the art was taught by someone from Japan.

The history of origami is rife with claims of which country invented the art first. Many people say that it is wrong to call origami a Japanese art when China or Europe may have folded paper first or at least invented the craft on their own. No matter which country can truthfully make this claim, paper was expensive when origami first started. It was not a hobby of children or an artistic outlet for the average person, because the price of paper of even bad quality was significant. In Japan, origami was reserved for special religious ceremonies or exchanging gifts under rare circumstances.

Hiden Senbazuru Orikata is the name of the first origami book, which translates to “Secret to Folding One-Thousand Cranes.” The history of origami is full of paper cranes, especially because of the books and legends surrounding origami birds and cranes. One such legend is that anyone who manages to fold 1,000 paper cranes will have his or her heart’s desire come true. A true story of a dying 12-year-old girl who tried to fold 1,000 cranes so that she could live spurred the attempts of folding 1,000 cranes. In the 21st century, people still fold cranes to honor her memory, for good luck, or just for fun.

The art of origami is enjoyed around the world, from the United States of America to China and Spain. It is sometimes taught in schools, and people join social groups to share ideas and fold together. Modern techniques, such as wet-folding, were invented to make folding paper into certain shapes easier. Meanwhile, the history of origami is still being explored and argued over by historians and people who just have a passion for the art. Entire museum exhibits have been dedicated to displaying origami masterpieces and old books on the subject, many items dating back hundreds of years.

HomeQuestionsAnswered is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Alex Tree
By Alex Tree
Andrew McDowell is a talented writer and HomeQuestionsAnswered contributor. His unique perspective and ability to communicate complex ideas in an accessible manner make him a valuable asset to the team, as he crafts content that both informs and engages readers.
Discussion Comments
By aLFredo — On Aug 16, 2011

@Tomislav - I am by no means an expert but I have read about any origami hearts which of course are just a part of the larger symbol of the heart meaning love. I have also read that origami hearts and flowers have been given as a symbol of love and friendship for many years.

I have also seen a website that using different colors in origami can mean different things such as pink symbolizing happiness.

By Tomislav — On Aug 15, 2011

I had always thought paper origami was interesting and very neat to look at, but I have never had the time to pursue it.

However, I did get to appreciate more origami as the local businesses made origami peace crane shapes to help raise relief money for Japan following the terrible earthquake and tsunami that occurred in 2011.

Do other shapes other than the origami crane mean something or have a legend behind them?

Alex Tree
Alex Tree
Andrew McDowell is a talented writer and HomeQuestionsAnswered contributor. His unique perspective and ability to communicate complex ideas in an accessible manner make him a valuable asset to the team, as he crafts content that both informs and engages readers.
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