I’m a paper folder and collector of maps. Invariably, at some point during a family trip, you will find me in an art gallery gift shop rifling through packets of origami paper. That’s obviously why suitcase manufacturers invented the flat, zippered pocket on the front of suitcases-it’s a place for me to store maps hoarded from our holiday and for my shiny new packets of origami paper. I also like foreign newspapers. I don’t even mind if they’re not in English, but I am fussy about the paper quality; none of that horrible coarse stuff, please.

Paper was apparently invented in China around 105AD. I was under the impression that paper invention was the big achievement of the Ancient Egyptians, but perhaps the stuff made from papyrus reeds doesn’t count as paper?

About 400 years later, a Japanese Buddhist monk called Dokyo, introduced paper into Japan. That’s an annoyingly slow mail service. The Japanese further refined the paper-making process and came up with a thin, durable paper called washi. As well as being used for official record keeping, washi was used in Shinto religious rituals, and it became customary to wrap offerings to the gods. For traditional Shinto weddings, paper butterflies adorn sake (wine) bottles. The butterflies are mecho (female) or ocho (male) and are likely to be the earliest forms of representational origami.

Even in Japan today, there are still rules of etiquette for the giving and receiving of gifts. Gifts are often decorated with noshi and noshi has particular fold patterns depending on the gift.

There is scant evidence of recreational origami occurring in Japan before the seventeenth-century. The first book (Tsutsumi-no Ki) providing instruction on ceremonial folds was published in 1764 by Sadatake Ise.

But, and this is a big but with a capital B and in bold – did you know, contrary to popular opinion, origami is not solely a Japanese art? Learned men and women agree that a certain picture in a 1490 edition of Tractatus de Sphaere Mundi bears an uncanny resemblance to an origami boat. Scholars agree that European and Japanese classic origami seemed to have developed independently. I guess the whole world is in love with paper.

The word origami comes from two Japanese words – oru (to fold) and kami (paper). A few years ago, my fascination with origami began despite being intimidated by the craft. I’m not an artsy crafty person and my artistic talent is limited to appreciation, but I adore pretty things. Origami is particularly attractive because of its transient beauty. I love that each model is fragile and possibly impermanent. It is like the beauty of rainbows, if you don’t stop to admire them right now, they may disappear in a few moments.

We’re lucky that today paper is readily available and not exorbitantly expensive. The internet is littered with how-to instructions, but I was still scared of the preciseness required for origami. I don’t do precise – it’s one of my many character flaws. I don’t like to measure and weigh and step back and think. I much prefer jumping in and having a go. On the face of it, spontaneity and origami do not seem to be a match made in heaven.

Perhaps the most well-known origami model is the crane. This model has been immortalised and popularised in Eleanor Coerr’s book Sadako and 1,000 Paper Cranes. The book has been so popular that the paper crane has become an international peace symbol. I tried making 1,000 paper cranes. I made about 30 before I questioned my sanity. What the hell was I going to do with a 1,000 paper cranes? I abandoned my 1,000 paper crane project and moved onto something else.

Hearts. I moved onto hearts. There is a plethora of different origami heart models but I finally settled on one that suits me. Hearts are an obvious symbol of love and friendship, and they make great bookmarks. Unlike paper cranes, hearts can be folded flat so they’re much easier to store than 3D paper cranes. I send origami hearts out into the world. It’s a lovely way to show friendship, and to be honest, Australia Post could probably do with the extra work.

Did you know there are benefits to paper folding? Origami can help develop: hand-eye coordination; attention and sequencing skills; patience (hee hee); temporal spatial skills and mathematical reasoning. Origami is a brain workout and because paper folding requires the engagement of both your hands, it activates the language portion of your brain.

If you’re interested in origami, I encourage you to take another look at this fun, paperish activity. It’s a wonderful way to send out positive vibes into the world and it’s a good way to get the old grey matter working too. What are you waiting for? Go on, get online, get instructions and start folding paper. You won’t regret it and your brain will thank you.

 

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