Re-discovering the Japanese Traditional Craft of Origami: An Autoethnographic Experience

For my individual research project I have decided to examine and essentially learn how to create origami, which is a traditional Asian form of arts and crafts.  I will document my process through either wordpress or storyboard with the inclusion of images and videos.

As Ellis outlines, autoethnography involves the interpretation of a text which is often influenced by our own personal experiences and understanding. It is this understanding which then influences our interpretation of a text, which may often been obscured or bias depending on that understanding. Utilising this definition and understanding of autoethnography, I spent today looking through my old primary school books to locate any Japanese related materials and came across this gem:

dog-origami

Learning origami in prep (2000)

At the young age of 6 in prep class in Victoria, I was introduced to Japan, more specifically the creative art of origami. I remember enjoying origami at school, especially creating the dog. Perhaps this is because it is one of the easiest figures to create.

Interestingly, when I asked mum where all my other Japanese books were she simply replied:

“you hated Japanese. When I asked you if you wanted me to keep your Japanese books you said no, chuck them out I won’t ever need them”.

What a stupid mistake that was… But this has puzzled me as I distinctly remember being fascinated by the traditional, thin, silky doubled sided blossom covered sheets that were so delicate and pretty. Ironically though I found my Term 4 report card from Prep, and low and behold I had received Highly Commendable’s (as that was the scoring system in Victoria at the time…weird hey?) for every subject except LOTE (which stands for Languages Other Than English – yes I did have to google this because I couldn’t figure it out myself!)

So perhaps I wasn’t very good at the subject as a whole and only liked creating dog figured origami! Regardless I still got this certificate for excellence in Japanese (go me):

japanese-certificate

Japanese certificate (2000)

Moving on from my childhood experience of Japanese and origami, the first hurdle that I had to overcome with this project was locating traditional Japanese origami sheets. There was an abundance of online stores that you could buy from, but by the time my order would arrive it would be the Friday that our second blog task is due! So I started to search for physical stores. As I had limited knowledge of Japanese or Asian style shops that might have origami supplies, I really struggled to find anything. I spent a lot of time on Google searching, as well as asking friends if they knew of any stores that sell origami. I eventually came across two stores that were located in the city. One called Daiso Japan and another called Kinokuniya. As I work in the city during some weekdays it wasn’t too much hassle getting between the two shops. Daiso Japan was a lot like the Dollar King or Reject Shop that you have at your local Westfield, but everything was in Japanese. I struggled massively to figure out what each aisle contained stock wise but eventually found some Japanese paper and an origami book. I found it odd that the staff were mainly Asian except for the person at the checkout who was a middle aged white male.

shop-1

Daiso Japan purchases

Then I went to Kinokuniya and I could not believe how large their Asian section was. I was literally in Asian book heaven! I was also really pleased and slightly surprised that most of the origami books had the traditional Japanese characters alongside English translation in a step by step setting. I immediately ignored the books that were only in Japanese, because I knew my limited understanding of their language would only hinder my experience of origami. $80 later spent on three more origami books and more origami paper and I was set.

shop-2

More origami! Thanks to Kinokuniya

When I got home I was so excited to try out my new potential hobby. I wanted to focus on the crane as I have a disjointed memory of watching the movie ‘Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes’ when I was younger in which the main character Sadako created 1000 cranes while she was in hospital suffering from leukaemia.

I took pictures of my 3 attempts at the traditional figure ‘the crane’:

I have to admit, my first reaction to creating origami was simple: frustration. I really didn’t think it would be that hard to fold and manoeuvre the paper into the shape that looked so perfect in my origami book. Regardless, on my third attempt I mastered it. However many thoughts were rushing through my mind:

  • Who created the concept of origami?
  • Why is the character ‘the crane’ so important?
  • What does ‘the crane’ signify?
  • Do people do this for a living?
  • Why do a lot of the sheets of origami paper have flowers on it?
  • What is the importance of the sparkly gold and silver details on some of the sheets?
  • Why are some of the sheets so thin?
  • How long would you need to practice origami in order to be able to do it quite well?
  • Why do some sheets of origami paper only have one side of colour and pattern while others seem to be doubled sided?

Looking at what I will be doing in my next blog, I will be using my personal understanding and experiences from when I was younger and the questions I have formed around origami to achieve a wider cultural, political and/or social understanding of the Japanese art.  As Jones (2013) outlines, I will research and challenge my own assumptions and perhaps uncover why I formed such perceptions in the first place.  I would not be surprised if time, which is often associated with autoenthography, will also have an impact on my assumptions and reflection.

__________________________________________________________________________

References

Ellis, C, Adam, T & Bochner, A 2011, ‘Autoethnography: An Overview’, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, vol. 12, no. 1, art. 1, <http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095>.

Jones, H, Adam, T & Ellis, C 2013, ‘Handbook of autoethnography’, Left Coast Press, Walnut Creek, CA, pg. 10.

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6 comments

  1. Hi Charlotte,

    So beautiful how you have linked this assessment to your first account of Origami, super cute idea. A central part of autoethnographic research is to consider your cultural context which may influence your opinion. Your Origami and Japanese lessons at the age of 6 was the start of your understanding of Japanese culture and it’s brilliant how you have connected the two.

    It would be interesting if you changed up your delivery medium in your second instalment. For example, you could create a video of you making origami and talking about the autoethnographic research process. Just a thought. Great post overall.

    Thanks

    Abbey

    Like

  2. Hi there.
    I really like how you have linked your first experience with origami into this assignment. This really focuses on the idea of autoethnographical research and connecting it with the cultural influence it puts on your opinion.

    I also really like how you have included photos of what you have created, but as the comment above says, it would be lovely to see videos too. I think this is a really good idea!
    Overall, I really like your engagement with your original experience with origami and Japanese culture and how it links back to this assignment.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Charlotte,

    I am looking forward to seeing more of your project. Hearing that you went to Kinokuniya got me fangirling, it’s one of my fav stores lmao.

    It was good to see you set up your study area with a personal account. Highlighting your regret over chucking your Japanese learning books which is then juxtaposed by your favorable memories of the art of origami was a nice touch.

    You have asked some great questions about origami too. I think the symbolic meanings of the shapes, colours, flowers etc. could be an excellent thing to look into.

    I think what would be good for your project would be instructive videos on how to make some of the shapes. This could demonstrate your understanding of the art which you are then making familiar for others through demonstration/instruction.

    Good luck with it all!

    P.S. I know the art frustration is real but stay strong!

    Like

  4. Your first exposure and experience with the Japanese culture is so cute! I too learnt about Japan and the text ‘Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes’ when I was very young in primary school and it now gets me thinking as to why schools teach it so young if students barely remember it years on?! But I can then also reason that it educates children on cultural acceptance…

    It’s also interesting to note how international Asian brands are now considered ‘normal’ in our Westernised culture such as Daiso and Uniqlo. I think that as a highly diverse and multicultural society, Australians are more open to cultural acceptance because increasingly an “Australian” person is no longer confined to the image of the white Australian.

    I think that many people experience instances such as these subconsciously and don’t even realise how seamlessly other cultures have entered their lives.

    Like

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