During a trip to South America, I was surprised to meet an origami hobbiest in Bolivia who had learned the paper-folding craft in school.
To learn more about the worldwide appeal of origami, I visited the Origami Kaikan that opened in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo, by Yushima no Kobayashi Inc., a long-standing manufacturer and seller of origami paper founded in 1858. The building houses an exhibition space for origami works and a paper-dyeing workshop.
"It uses the fingers, so it's good for rehabilitation," said Yushima no Kobayashi President and museum curator Kazuo Kobayashi, 73, folding origami paper as he spoke. "It has a hand-dyed touch that you can't produce by machine."
Kobayashi performs demonstrations when he has time to spare so more people can understand the fun of origami. Red paper with gold stripes is folded into a rose; light yellow-green, pink, and white paper become a folding fan with a crane folded into it. "It's like magic," exclaim visitors as they watch the squares of paper changing shape.
People tend to think you cannot make beautiful works unless you line up the edges exactly, but Kobayashi said with a laugh, "Precise alignment is not necessary." This is because slight deviations reveal the colour of the reverse side of the paper and bring out a certain flavor. He used his scissors boldly when cutting the paper as well.
In the fourth floor workshop, you can watch up close as craftsmen dye Japanese washi paper with skillful strokes of their brushes.
"Before I got used to it, I had a hard time with my brush drying out and getting stuck midway," said craftsman Toshimitsu Hagiwara, 40. The roughly 5,000 types of origami paper they sell, including hand-dyed offerings, are all vividly coloured and endless fun to look at. There are repeat visitors who come frequently, hoping to see new works. There are about 200 visitors a day, many of them from overseas.
Origami is often considered a pastime for children, but there are also stylish ways to enjoy it as an adult, such as making a bottle cap in the shape of a kabuto traditional helmet, or folding a banknote into the shape of a dog to give as a tip. Before I knew it, I was totally absorbed in picking out origami paper, just like when I was a child.
The Origami Kaikan
Works by origami artists are exhibited in the gallery on the mezzanine level, and origami paper and other Japanese washi papers are sold on the third floor. The hand-dyeing workshop on the fourth floor may be closed to visitors depending on the work underway. On the fifth and sixth floors, there are classrooms for making origami and Japanese paper dolls (admission fee, appointment required). The origami paper on sale generally ranges from ¥200 (S$2.2) to ¥1,000. There are also about 200 varieties of sets for making hina dolls, kabuto traditional helmets and others.