Origami - More Than Just A Children’s Pastime

It is nearly impossible to find a child anywhere around the world who has never made an airplane from a sheet of paper from his notebook. Be it out of boredom or a force of habit, finding amusement in folding paper to create various shapes and objects is something a lot of people discover at a young age. Nowadays, many consider it as a simple activity for children to feed their creativity. Standard designs are readily available online and are quite convenient for keeping kids busy. However, the art form, better known as origami, originally was not meant to be a children’s activity and actually has quite a long history behind it.

Brief History of Origami

As with the many other aspects that make up the Japanese culture, the roots of origami (which comes from the words ori meaning fold and kami meaning paper) can also be traced back to China. Paper is believed to have been created and folded by the Chinese people sometime between the first and second century, only reaching Japan during the Heian Period.

This period, which is best described as the golden age of Japan’s nobility, was a time when many of Japan’s artistic and cultural developments were made. Back then, paper was among the rare commodities only the elite could afford. As such, origami was an exclusive pastime for Japan’s aristocracy. Set shapes produced from origami were often used for weddings and other ceremonial occasions, while those made from white paper served as markings for sacred items.

By the Edo Period, when many of Japan’s traditional activities turned into forms of entertainment, origami became accessible to the common people and merchants. It easily gained popularity, which led to more and more designs and patterns being created during the 19th century.

However, come the Meiji Period, the people’s interest in the activity as an art form started declining. For more than 50 years, origami became quite stagnant and majorly relied on its ceremonial use for survival.

What saved it from being completely pulled out from the Japanese culture was the tragic tale of Sasaki Sadako, a girl who got leukemia from the Hiroshima bombing in 1945. According to Japanese tradition, creating a thousand paper cranes, or senbazuru, would make one’s wish come true. Sasaki, hoping to miraculously recover by completing the 1,000 cranes (individually called Tsuru in Japanese), set about doing the tradition during the mid-1950s when she was only 11 years old. Throughout the process, however, she started wishing for world peace, instead.

There are two versions to the end of the tale, one saying Sasaki died only completing 644 cranes and her friends doing the remaining cranes as a tribute to her during her funeral, the other saying Sasaki completed all 1,000 cranes and going on to fold hundreds more before dying at the age of twelve. Regardless of what actually happened, Sasaki’s story has helped origami gain back its place in the hearts of the Japanese community. Every 6th of August, thousands of tsurus are made by children, in and out of Japan, and sent to the Children’s Peace Memorial in Hiroshima in memory of Sasaki; a day known as Peace Day.

Origami Techniques / Instructions

Not long after origami became popular again, artists such as Kosho Uchiyama and Akira Yoshizawa started producing and recording different origami techniques and models that consist of two main aspects – origami bases and origami folds:

Origami Bases

Regardless of the final outcome, many origami models follow the same set of folds for the first few steps. These initial folds are called origami bases and act as guide patterns for the succeeding folds. Some of the most common ones include:

  • Square base
  • Balloon base
  • Bird base
  • Kite base
  • Fish base
  • Fruit base
  • Frog base
  • Matrix bases (3x3, 4x4, 8x8, etc.)

Origami Folds

After making the origami base, different origami folds can be used to form the paper into a certain shape or object. The most common origami folds are the mountain fold and valley fold, while the more complex ones include:

  • Outside reverse fold
  • Inside reverse fold
  • Z fold
  • Stair fold
  • Gate fold
  • Chair fold
  • Cushion fold
  • Pocket fold
  • Sink fold
  • Rabbit ear fold

Origami Paper

Although any piece of flat paper can be used for origami, there are particular kinds of paper being sold in the market as origami paper, or kami. These often come in sets of squares sized from 1 inch (2.54 cm) to 10 inches (25.4 cm). Usually, one side of each square is colored while the other side is white. More expensive ones come in patterned and dual colored squares.

Origami paper is a bit lighter than normal paper and can easily hold creases. For those who cannot find places that carry origami paper, it can be substituted with 70-90 g/m2 copy paper. However, for more complex origami models, heavier paper or foil-backed paper may be more suitable.

In Japan, the traditional kami used is known as washi. This kind of paper can be made from gampi tree bark, bamboo, rice, hemp, or the mitsumata shrub, making it tougher than ordinary wood-based paper.

Other popular papers in Japan are kozo, unryu, saa, and lokta, which are extremely strong but floppy. As such, they are often coated with a wheat paste before being used for origami. These artisan papers are often used for delicate and narrow origami models such as insect diagrams.

Origami Tools

Many advanced folders believe that no tools should be used when doing origami. However, for complex origami models, having a few tools ready can be quite helpful. Some of the most common ones include:

  • Bone Folder – can be used to create sharp folds
  • Paper Clips – can be used to hold other sections
  • Tweezers – can be used to create small creases
  • Ruler or Ballpoint Embosser – can be used to score folds
  • Water Spray – can be used on the completed model to help maintain its shape

Types of Origami

  1. Modular Origami
    Modular Origami makes use of identical origami pieces to create a model. Each piece, usually triangular in shape, is relatively easy to make. Putting them all together is often the tricky part. This type of origami is also known as 3D origami. The popular model done in Japan that can be categorized under this type of origami is known as kusudama, or medicine ball.
  2. Wet-folding
    Wet-folding refers to the origami technique of creating models using curves instead of straight geometric folds. The paper is initially dampened for easier molding. This technique produces sturdier completed models as compared to folding dry paper.
  3. Action Origami
    Action origami refers to origami models that can be moved by pulling or pushing their other sections. Common action origami models include inflatable objects, winged animals, and puppets.
  4. Pureland Origami
    Pureland origami was created during the 1970s by John Smith as a way to help beginners or those with limited motor skills enjoy origami. Folders are restricted to only use valley folds, mountain folds, and other straight and simple folds. Many folders like doing Pureland origami as it provides them with a challenge.
  5. Kirigami
    Kirigami refers to paper cutting. Traditionally, Japanese origami required several cuts to produce certain models. Over time, modern designs and innovations have made paper cutting an unnecessary part of origami. As such, kirigami and origami are not used synonymously and are considered as two separate art forms.

Making a Simple Origami Box

The origami box is among the simplest models that can be done in just a few steps. It is normally done using a 6” x 6” piece of origami paper and can be used to hold small items.

  1. Create horizontal and vertical lines by folding the paper in half, making one edge meet the opposite edge, then unfolding it.
  2. Fold in each corner of the square to meet the intersecting point of both lines.
  3. Rotate the piece of paper to make a square.
  4. Fold in the top and bottom sides, letting them meet at the center, then unfold.
  5. Unfold the top and bottom corners.
  6. Fold in the right and left sides towards the center.
  7. Fold the top portion up, using the 3rd crease from the top as a guide.
  8. Continue holding up the top portion while unfolding the left side to create a corner.
  9. Repeat step 8 for the right side.
  10. Repeat steps 7-9 for the bottom portion.
  11. Fold down the top and bottom flaps towards the inside of the box.

Making an Origami Flower (Tulip)

A rose, carnation, or any other flower can be made using origami, the tulip being one of the easiest ones. The origami tulip is made using two separate square pieces of paper, one for the blossom and the other for the stem.


  1. Rotate the origami paper to form a diamond shape.
  2. Fold the diamond in half by placing the bottom corner over the top corner.
  3. Fold the triangle in half by placing the left corner over the right corner, then unfold.
  4. Fold up the right corner at an angle, making sure to have the tip go beyond the vertical centerline and over the other side.
  5. Fold up the left corner, using the folded right corner’s edge as a guide.
  6. Fold in the lowest point towards the back to create a small horizontal bottom section.


  1. Rotate the origami paper to form a diamond shape.
  2. Fold the diamond in half by placing the left corner over the right corner, then unfold.
  3. Fold in the left and right corners towards the vertical centerline.
  4. Fold it in half, placing the left portion over the right.
  5. Fold up a small section of its lower half, making use that its edges at the right are well aligned.
  6. Tape or glue the flower piece on top of the stem.

Making an Origami Heart

The origami heart is a simple model that can be done in just six steps. Using just one square piece of paper, it makes for a great and thoughtful handmade gift.

Create horizontal and vertical lines by folding the paper in half, making one corner meet the opposite corner, then unfolding it.

  1. Rotate the origami paper to form a diamond shape.
  2. Fold in the top corner towards the center.
  3. Fold in the bottom corner towards the top horizontal edge.
  4. Fold in the lower left and right sides towards the vertical centerline.
  5. Fold in the top and side corners towards the back.

Making a Puffy Origami Star

A popular gift among Japanese kids during Christmas Day or New Year’s Day is a jar filled with puffy little stars. These stars are known as lucky stars, inspired by the story of Hoshi, a girl who saved falling stars by creating 2,000 paper stars with her friends. As such, the gift is believed to bring luck to the receiver.

  1. Cut out a strip of paper.
  2. Tie the top portion to form a simple and tight knot, then flatten.
  3. Tuck in the shorter loose end of the knot into the knot’s pocket.
  4. Fold the longer end of the knot over it, going along the pentagon’s edges.
  5. Keep folding in the strip along the pentagon’s edges until a short strip is left.
  6. Tuck in the remaining strip into the pentagon’s pocket.
  7. Poke or push each side of the pentagon to form the star.

Complicated Origami Models (Crane, Dragon, Swan)

Unlike the previous origami models that can be done in less than ten steps, origami cranes, dragons, and swans are a bit more complicated. They follow a series of delicate folds and creases, too detailed to tackle without visual aids.

As an example of how intricate the steps are for these kinds of origami models, the instructions for making an origami crane, or tsuru, will be presented as simple as possible. A single square piece of origami paper will be needed.

  1. Rotate the origami paper to form a diamond shape.
  2. Fold it in half, placing the top corner over the bottom corner.
  3. Fold it again in half, placing the left corner over the right corner.
  4. Open the top flap, making creases on its left and right side, then fold it by making the top corner meet the bottom corner.
  5. Turn the origami paper over and repeat step 4.
  6. Fold in the left and right sides of the top layer towards the middle, then unfold.
  7. Open up the top flap then fold in the left and right sides.
  8. Turn the origami paper over and repeat steps 6-7.
  9. Fold in the lower portions of both layers towards the center.
  10. Fold the right flap, placing it over the left.
  11. Turn the origami paper over and repeat step 10.
  12. Fold the bottom flap, placing it over the top portion.
  13. Turn the origami paper over and repeat step 12.
  14. Fold the right side’s top portion over the left.
  15. Turn the origami paper over and repeat step 14.
  16. Pull apart the left and right portions below the top flap and crease them in place.
  17. Slightly open one of the pieces pulled apart during step 16 and bend it down to form the crane’s head. Crease the sides to keep the head in place.
  18. Bend down both layers of the middle portion at a 90-degree angle to form the crane’s wings.

There is no end to what shape or object can be produced using origami. Although there are numerous origami bases and folds, anyone can create their own set of techniques and methods to follow. One does not have to strictly follow a tutorial, book instruction, or diagram and just concentrate on having fun. Origami, in its plainest form, is simply an art of paper folding and art, of course, is only limited to one’s creativity.