Origami: A Primer

Origami (折り紙) from ori meaning “folding”, and kami meaning “paper” (kami changes to gami) is the art of paper folding. In modern usage, the word “origami” is used as an inclusive term for all folding practices, regardless of their culture of origin. The goal is to transform a flat square sheet of paper into a finished sculpture through folding and sculpting techniques. Modern origami practitioners generally discourage the use of cuts, glue, or markings on the paper. Origami folders often use the Japanese word kirigami to refer to designs which use cuts.

Five common Japanese designs and their meaning:

Butterfly (Chocho)
Butterflies are a common symbol in Japanese culture to represent young girls. Just as caterpillars undergo metamorphosis to become butterflies, young girls begin to come into their own and become more confident and beautiful as they mature. Two butterflies flying together are also seen as a symbol for a happy marriage, as one butterfly represents the husband and the other represents the wife. Their carefree and happy nature reflects what the ideal marriage should be.

Crane (Tsuru)
In Japanese folklore, cranes are said to live a thousand years. Because of this, an origami crane represents a long, healthy life. Cranes are also viewed as symbols of happiness, and good luck. According to legend, if one thousand paper cranes are folded, it is said that one’s wish will be granted. After the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, the origami crane also became a symbol of peace and nonviolence.

Fish (Sakana)
Fish are generally seen as symbols of happiness, good health, and well-being. Due to the fact that fish are able to roam the oceans as they please, they are also symbols of freedom. One Japanese legend tells of a carp that swam up a huge, powerful waterfall and into the sky to become a dragon. Because of this, fish have come to represent the strength, perseverance, and determination it takes to swim against the current.

Frog (Kaeru)
The frog has long been seen as a symbol of good fortune in Japanese culture. It is a common tradition to carry a small frog figurine in the bottom of ones coin purse or wallet to insure that even when money is spent, it will come back to you. Frogs are also often carried by people during their travels to insure that that person will return home safely.

Rabbit (Usagi)
As in many other cultures, the rabbit is viewed as a symbol of fertility and reproduction. It is also associated with the coming of spring and the metaphorical rebirth of the world. In Japanese lore, the rabbit is often portrayed as mischievous and tricky, often playing pranks or fooling others to obtain his goal.

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