Origami is the art of paper-folding, which uses a sheet of paper to create different shapes through basic folding and sculpting techniques. The word origami is derived from the Japanese 折り ori, ‘to fold’, and 紙 kami, ‘paper’.
In Japan, origami began with the introduction of paper from Korea and Japan in the 6th Century AD, which Buddhist monks had brought from China. The first instances of origami were found in religious rituals and ceremonies, such as the shide (streamers) on gohei (wands), used by Shinto priests in purification rituals; and in weddings to adorn sake bottles. But paper was expensive back then, so there was very little recreational origami before the 17th Century.
Traditionally, origami uses a tough paper made from fibres and bark from the gampi tree, mitsumata shrub, or the mulberry, called 和紙 washi. This thicker and heavier than regular wood pulp paper, and can also be made using bamboo, hemp, rice, and wheat. In modern times, basically any kind of paper can be used, as long as it can hold a crease. It doesn’t have to be square, coloured, patterned, or washi.
There are several basic folding techniques that are essential to most origami projects, including the squash fold, the petal fold, and the inside reverse fold, which are depicted in the diagram below:
The most widely recognised origami shape is the Japanese paper crane, called 折り鶴 orizuru (folded crane), a symbol of loyalty and strength. According to Japanese folklore, the red-crowned crane is said to live for a thousand years, and grant favours for sacrifices. A thousand paper cranes, referred to as 千羽鶴 senbazuru, is believed to grant the maker a wish upon completion.
There is a well-known story of a girl called Sadako, a victim of the Hiroshima bombing during World War II, who was diagnosed with leukemia due to radiation from the atomic bomb. She started folding paper cranes while hospitalised, in hopes of reaching a thousand and having her wish for health and peace granted. She folded over 1300 paper cranes before she died, fourteen months later, only 12 years old. The Children’s Memorial in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park was erected in her memory, with a statue of Sadako holding a golden crane sitting on top.
Sadako atop the Children’s Memorial in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park — Daa Nell, Flickr
People from all over the world send their paper cranes to Hiroshima, to be hung or draped near the memorial. Every year on 6 August, a Peace Memorial Ceremony is held to remember the victims of the atomic bombs.
Here is how you can fold your own paper crane.
1 sheet of paper — preferably square, any size. If your piece of paper is rectangular, you can cut it to make it square:
Fold the sheet of paper in half, horizontally, vertically, and then diagonally.
Bring two opposite corners together. Using a squash fold (see diagram above), fold the loose corners down to form squares. Turn the square so that the folded corner is pointed away from you.
Taking one corner, line up the edge with the centre line running vertically down the middle of the square. This will form a triangle. Repeat with the other corner.
Fold down the top of the square that is protruding above the folded edges.
Unfold the two edges, and then lift away to form a sort of frog’s mouth.
Fold down to form a long diamond.
Repeat steps 6-10 for the other side.
The long diamond shape should have one side that is joined, and another side that is split in half. Turn the diamond so that the joined side is pointed away from you.
Extra Step (Optional)
Take one corner of the long diamond, and line up the edge with the centre line to form a thinner “leg”. Repeat with other corner, and then on the other side.
Taking both halves of the diamond, fold them up. You can leave a bit of an angle, rather than folding it straight. Unfold, leaving the creases behind.
Open the side of the diamond, and inside reverse fold the split end back up, using the creases you made in the previous step. This will form the head of the crane.
Repeat for the other side.
Inside reverse fold the tip of one protruding triangle to form the head.
Unfold the wings.
Notice how the “body” of the crane is flat and pointed (top). If you went with the extra step, the body will now be fuller, and more 3D (bottom).