Brief Origami History

Many of the facts concerning origami history are considered debatable. This is because the same ephemeral qualities that make origami so prized also ensured that early examples of the craft did not survive the ravages of time.

The original concept for origami came from the Chinese art of paper folding. The Chinese began this art form several hundred years earlier when paper was first created during the Han Dynasty . Paper, and the art of Chinese paper folding, was brought to Japan by Chinese Buddhist monks. During this time, paper was considered a great luxury and one that only upper class and royal families could afford to own or produce in both Japan and China.

At first, the folding designs were used as gifts and as a way to communicate with one another. The paper used was extremely basic and only came in a few colors. Although the Chinese had been folding paper for hundreds of years already, the Japanese further embraced it as a beautiful and often elaborate art form. Soon, the formal name of the art was coined as the Japanese term origami: "ori" meaning "to fold" and "gami," meaning paper.

Eventually, paper became more common and production became cheaper and easier. Finally, almost everyone in Japan had access to paper and created origami. For centuries, both the Japanese and Chinese neglected to write down the instructions for specific origami designs. Instead, the tradition stayed alive through families that passed their designs from generation to generation and most commonly, from mother to daughter.

In 1797, the first written instructions on how to fold paper to form a simple Japanese crane were published. The book was appropriately titled "How to Fold 1,000 Cranes." The book told the tale that if you folded 1,000 paper cranes, you would be granted one magnificent wish. After this book, woodblock prints were created that explained how to create other origami designs.

Origami's Art Influence
As years went by, designs became much more elaborate and origami began to influence fashion and architecture as well. It was common for women to wear long dresses with paper cranes stitched to the seams. Buildings began to be constructed  so that they took shapes similar to origami designs, especially emphasizing sharp angles and a sense of abstraction that was rarely seen in Japanese architecture before this time.

Origami Reaches Beyond Asia
The art of paper folding and origami didn't stay in Japan and China. The art was introduced to Western Europe, especially in Spain, by Arabs around 1000 A.D. However, it was not used as an art form by the Arabs because Islamic teachings did not allow it. Instead, it was used to create mathematical and geometrical models for scholars.

Origami was introduced to America and England around 1900. This time period is considered the era in which the art of origami and paper folding was revived and started to become popular among non-Asian countries. England and America viewed the art of paper folding as foreign, yet intriguing and beautiful. Today, origami art is created all over the world. It is taught in American schools and is even taught at colleges and universities as an advanced art study.

Today's Origami Influence
The type of paper used in origami today also varies greatly. Most origami paper that is available in stores is light and brightly colored. Origami can also be created out of different materials as well, including foil, paper money and coarse cloth. Once completed, origami designs are displayed on single displays and in full-scene dioramas.

Many have dedicated their life and work to origami creation. These master folders are scattered throughout Japan and even America. Their work is often displayed in museums and featured in magazines and books. Additionally, there are many national and international origami organizations, most famously OrigamiUSA and the British Origami Society.

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