The Lister List

Akira Yoshizawa

Arising out of my unreasonably long e-mail about Gershon Legman (for which I humbly apologise), Janet Hamilton asks If Akira Yoshizawa was not an engineer who started paperfolding in order to make 3-D models.

I'll leash myself in and struggle not to inflict on you another long diatribe. Anyway, I have other things to do and still have not dealt with the backlog from my holiday in Skiathos!

In short, Janet is partially right, though Yoshizawa was never a qualified engineer. He was born of farming parents in 1911 and attended elementary school. After he moved to Tokyo at the age of 13, he continued his education at evening closses and started work in a metal machining factory, where he was later singled out to instruct the junior employees. Among other subjects, he had to teach them geometry. Since he was interested in paperfolding, Yoshizawa hit upon the idea of using paperfolding as a way of teaching geometry. His employers gave him every support and permitted him to study paperfolding in work time. As far as I know, Yoshizawa was not then using paperfolding to make 3-D models. Three dimensions came much later.

Later, Yoshizawa left the factory to try to concentrate on paperfolding. At one time he considered, instead, "Bonkei", the art of creating miniature landscapes. He clearly had an artistic vocation and we may be glad that he chose paperfolding. This was before the war, about 1937 or 1938. To keep body and soul together, he took on a whole succession of jobs, and lived in comparative poverty. During the war he was called up into the Japanese Medical Corps and spent some time in Hong Kong until he himself was taken ill and returned to Japan. During the war, in 1944, some of Yoshizawa's models appeared in "Origami Shuko", a book published by Isao Honda. Even if any copies of this book survive, it is extremely rare.

After the war, Yoshizawa resumed his previous way of life, always continuing to strive to make his paperfolding better and better.One of his jobs was selling "Tsukudani" from door to door, though it was not such a menial task as one might suppose. (Tsukudani is a delicacy made by simmering a broth of soy sauce, sake and sweet cake containing dried tuna, clams, seaweed or small fish until the liquid has been completely reduced).

About 1951 (when he was age 40) Yoshizawa's skills in paperfolding came to the notice of IIzawa Tadasu, the distinguished editor of the Japanese picture magazine "Asahi Graf" (sometimes written as "Asahi Graphu" or "Asahi Gurafu"). The story goes that he was installed in a good hotel, kitted out with new clothes and asked to create a series of twelve Signs of the Zodiac to be published in the magazine Yoshizawa struggled day and night to fulfil the commission, and we can imagine how he was driven by his passion for perfection. His designs appeared in the issue of "Asahi Graph" forJanuary, 1952. This was the unveiling of Yoshizawa's genius to the world and it would be very interesting if the article from "Asahi Graph" could be reproduced.

Iizawa Tadasu continued to sponsor Yoshizawa, arranging commissions, demonstrations and teaching sessions for him until Yoshizawa was able to stand on his own feet. Undoubtedly the remote and unlikely chance that Gershon Legman got to know about Yoshizawa so soon after the his appearance in "Asahi Graph" was a tremendous help in promoting Yoshizawa's career. Yoshizawa became as well known, (if not better known) in the West as in the East, just at the time when interest in paperfolding was burgeoning.

Some day, I hope to write the full story of Yoshizawa, but perhaps this answers Janet's question.

David Lister Grimsby, England.

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