Origami is the art of paper-folding; it shares something in common with paper cutting, namely, that both look simpler to do than they are. Ever tried to fold a crane? How about a thousand cranes? According to one Japanese legend, a thousand folded cranes will result in a real crane making your wishes come true. So much for wishes. By the time I would have tried fifteen and successfully folded one, I’d wish I’d never started.
Paper folding has come into its own as an international art form. I went to an origami exhibit last week. That same day a friend in Indiana emailed a link to a related exhibit in Indianapolis. I find the rise in the stature of paper-folding comforting. It means I no longer have to try. People used to say that “anyone, even children, can do origami.” Based on the pieces I saw, almost no one could do it.
However, I do have firsthand evidence that children fold paper better than I. On an educators’ visit to Japan in 2000, my two traveling companions and I toured a middle school where the teachers and students thought it would be fun for us to create a few origami animals while they watched. Fun for them, that is. The kids, especially, couldn’t hold back their giggles as we attempted to turn wispy sheets of colored paper into frogs, but, instead, ended up turning them into colorful, crumpled wads of paper.
I had a similar experience touring a Chinese preschool. Children there were using sharp, pointed scissors to cut animals, flowers and other designs out of paper.
(In our elementary schools we give kids round, dull ones. Even then I remember the time a principal called to tell me that one of her kindergartners had cut off most of a classmate’s hair with one of these innocent looking tools and no one had noticed until it was too late.)
When our Chinese hosts weren’t looking I gave the four-year-old sitting next to me a helpless look, and handed her my scissors and paper. As a result, I came home with a fine, souvenir paper cut. Should I claim that I made it? No. None of my friends would believe me.
Paper folding has practical applications. Some elementary teachers use it to show symmetry, help children understand two-dimensional objects vs. three-dimensional ones, and prepare kids for geometry in later grades.
One Chinese elite paper artist told me paper cutting helped kids develop fine motor skills. Whatever the reasons, children in Japan and China seem to be good at these crafts…and at math.
This photo shows the folds necessary to create something. Judging from the number required, I’d say something complex. Akira Yoshizawa, also known as the “father” or “grandmaster” of origami, devised a system of folding instructions using dotted and dashed lines. I can’t tell from this how to locate the starting point, but the number of folds is way more than you’d need to make a paper crane.