Origami

Reflecting on my Autoethnographic experience: Traditional Japanese Origami

The one thing that I have to mention first off is a mistake a made in my previous post of which I am attributing to my lack of knowledge and understanding of the Japanese art origami.  After starting my research, I quickly became aware and slightly devastated to learn that the figures that I created and documented in my first post were in fact dove’s, not crane’s.  There is a distinct difference in the final product of each figure, as well as the process of creating a crane being a lot more complex than that of a dove.

 

Regardless of this mistake, I have continued to research into the assumptions I made in my first post.

The exact origin of origami has often been debated due to the fact that paper degrades quickly leaving no trace as to where origami originated from and who first invented it. It has been said that paper was first invented in China by Cai Lun (also written as Ts’ai Lun) in 105 AD, whilst archaeologist evidence suggests that paper was invented even earlier than this. Paper was then brought to Japan by Buddhist monks in the sixth century AD.

Interestingly, in relation to my curiosity about the importance of the ‘crane’, I found out that the oldest known document written about origami surfaced in 1797 and was called the Senbazuru Orikata, which translates to ‘How to Fold One Thousand Cranes’. In Japan, the crane is a mystical creature and is believed to live for a thousand years. Culturally speaking, in Japan, China and Korea, the crane represents good fortune and longevity. Perhaps this not only answers my query about why the crane is so important but it also provides a reason why in the movie ‘Sadako and a Thousand Paper Cranes’ the main character Sadako tries to make a thousand origami cranes. Maybe this is because she is hoping that she will overcome her leukaemia and therefore prolong her life.

Further to this, the crane has developed a worldwide symbol of children’s desire for peace, however this concept has developed over time in conjunction with the traditional meaning of good fortune and longevity.

The meaning behind the crane then led me to consider if there was a meaning behind the floral prints on origami paper. I was able to determine that the two most prominent flowers, at least in the origami paper that I bought, are the cherry blossom and the Japanese lotus flower. Cherry blossoms are actually Japan’s national flowers, (I feel like I did know this) whilst the Japanese lotus has lots of different meanings depending on the colour, although generally involves the concept of rebirth.


Research then led me to the film Sadako and a Thousand Paper Cranes to try and revisit and understand the meaning behind the film. It turns out the film is based on a true story in which a young child called Sadako developed leukaemia as a result of being exposed to radiation as a baby during the atomic bomb of Hiroshima in 1945. The tradition was that if you created one thousand cranes and made a wish after each one was completed, then your wish would come true. Although there are conflicting stories that she either died having made 644 cranes or completed the one thousand cranes and then later died at the age of 12 from cancer is also debated. I personally want to believe that my recollection is of the second choice.

sadako.jpeg

Sadako memorial piece in Peace Park Seattle which is always draped in paper cranes.

Sadako actually wished for world peace instead of her own health and I can’t help but notice a clear link with the text of my first blog task, Gojira, which also had an underlying message surrounding the negative effects of war, atomic bombs and further nuclear testing.

This concept has really challenged me to consider my naive reaction to the frustrations of origami making. While yes it might be difficult for a beginner to grasp the difficult folds, twists and creases of an origami sheet, it is important to stop and look at the whole picture and see why origami has such a powerful cultural resonance with Asian countries. Whilst I was also pondering the importance of the crane and its traditional meaning in an Asian setting, I stumbled across this wonderful quote by Yoshizawa Akira, who has been acknowledged for his creative origami, which I think really explains the beauty of origami:

You can fold a simple quadrilateral paper into any shape as you want. I wished to fold the laws of nature, the dignity of life, and the expression of affection into my work…Folding life is difficult, because life is a shape or an appearance caught in a moment, and we need to feel the whole of natural life to fold one moment”.

Hence through my research I have discovered that origami paper itself is an intricate story of Japanese culture, with importance given to colour, floral patterns and design. I also learnt that the gold of origami paper represent love and loyalty whilst silver represents elegance. Clearly I had no idea of the traditional meaning behind the different elements on origami sheets, although I did and still do appreciate the beauty of each individual sheet of paper. Not only this but the importance of each shape or figure that can be created with the paper no doubt has an underlying cultural significance in an Asian setting that I was not aware of. Perhaps this is because my cultural experience has been hindered by lack of understanding and limited access to Japanese in general. Thus I am quite happy to conclude that my autoethnographic encounter coupled with research has allowed me to address my assumptions whilst also answering some unanswered questions presented to me in my first blog on origami.

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References

Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 2016, history.com, viewed 14 September 2016, <http://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/bombing-of-hiroshima-and-nagasaki>.

Cherry Blossom Meaning 2016, enki village, viewed 15 September 2016, <http://www.enkivillage.com/cherry-blossom-meaning.html>.

Echo, A 2016, Sadako and the 1,000 Paper Cranes, image, Emaze, viewed 15 September <https://www.emaze.com/@ACLQIFLW/Sadako-and-the-1,000>.

Goldstein-Gidoni, O 2005, ‘The Production and Consumption of ‘Japanese Culture’ in the Global Cultural Market’, Journal of Consumer Culture, vol. 5, no. 2, pp. 155-179.

History of Origami 2016, Origami Resource Centre, viewed 14 September 2016, <http://www.origami-resource-center.com/history-of-origami.html>.

History of Origami 2016, Origami Instructions, viewed 14 September 2016, <http://www.origami-instructions.com/history-of-origami.html>.

Meaning of The Origami Crane 2012, JCCC Origami Crane Project, viewed 15 September 2016, <http://www.jccc.on.ca/origami-cranes/pdf/meaning_of_the_origami_crane.pdf>.

Origami 2016, Japan Zone, viewed 14 September 2016, <https://www.japan-zone.com/culture/origami.shtml>.

Lotus Flower Wallpaper 2016, image, pcwallart.com, viewed 15 September 2016, <http://pcwallart.com/lotus-flower-wallpaper-3.html>.

Sadako Sasaki 2016, image, Activity Village, viewed 14 September 2016, <http://www.activityvillage.co.uk/sadako-sasaki>.

Williams, R 2006, The Invention of Paper, Institute of Paper Science and Technology at Georgia Tech, viewed 13 September 2016, <http://ipst.gatech.edu/amp/collection/museum_invention_paper.htm>.

Wallpaper HD 2016, image, Schone Wallpaper, viewed 15 September 2016, <http://www.schonewallpaper.de/wallpaper-hd/page/8>.

 

 

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.

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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.