The Lister List

Butterfly from Kenneway’s Complete Origami

On 23rd March Rae ( drew attention to the drawings of two butterflies at the top of page 35 of Eric Kenneway's "Complete Origami". Eric also mentioned a book by Dokuohtei Nakano called "Challenge Origami Butterfly (1)". Rae wondered whether the two butterflies were from that book, but couldn't be sure. Rae had been unable to find "Challenge Origami" online.

Yesterday Julia Palffy posted a message confirming that the two butterflies were not by Nakano, but were the traditional Mecho and Ocho butterflies used at Japanese weddings.

This innocent little question brings together several strands, which I will try to sort out.

 I can confirm that the two butterflies shown in Eric's book are examples of the Mecho and Ocho butterflies. There is no fixed way of folding them: Some methods are very simple, while others are very elaborate. The Ocho is the male and the Mecho is the female and the Ocho is always more elaborate than the Mecho. Examples are scattered sporadically throughout the origami literature, but the only instructions for a variety of Mecho and Ocho butterflies that is at all adequate is in Yoshihide Momotani's "Wrapping Origami" (in Japanese), 1993, ISBN: 4-416-89320-5. This book, however, does not give a narrative account of the butterflies, how they were used or what they represented.

The Mecho and Ocho butterflies are always associated with Japanese weddings and they do, indeed, feature in traditional and Shinto Japanese weddings. But this is not their primary association. They are really decorations for sake flasks and other containers for sake, such as sake buckets. The suggestion has been made several times that they are derived from the paper wrappers that were tied over the necks of sake flasks (See Isao Honda's "World of Origami", page 2.) A central part of the Japanese wedding ceremony is the "three times three" sips of sake taken by the bride and the groom alternately. However, the butterflies are also found with sake containers in other contexts. I have seen an illustration of a Boy's Festival display on 5th May (corresponding with the Hina Dolls display on 3rd March for the Girls' Festival) which included the traditional butterflies.

 In his book, Eric Kenneway states that the butterfly is the symbol of womanhood in Japan.. This may be one aspect of the butterfly's symbolism but it is not the whole picture. In Japan, butterflies have a more complex and varied symbolism than just womanhood or weddings.

 Dokohte Nakano is one of the first Japanese folders to have adopted the complex paperfolding techniques developed in the West in the 1960s and 1970s. The first Japanese edition of his "Course of Paperfolding" is an amazing compilation of complex bases, which seems to have been forgotten because of its fairly obscure Publication as a correspondence course. (It was later reissued in a slightly different form in English, but still as a correspondence course in parts, on subscription)

 Eric Kenneway formed a personal friendship with Dokuohtei Nakano, apparently when he visited Japan after winning a travel prize. Nakano later visited England several times. This led to Eric's connection with the three published booklets with the title "Challenge Origami". They were a) Butterfly (1). b) Flapping Bird (1) and c) Koala Bear. it is possible that they were originally published in untranslated Japanese versions, but I have never seen Japanese editions, if they ever existed.

Eric Kenneway had studied Japanese to degree standard to assist in his studies of origami and he took on the task of translating Nakano's three booklets into English. The booklets were published in bilingual editions in Japanese and English in 1986, the publication being stated to be by Kodomi -Yumeo-Jigyodan. There are no ISBN numbers. Because of the involvement of Eric Kenneway, the books were sold by British origami Society Supplies, which is where I bought my copies. No further copies are now available. The booklet Butterfly !(!) has instructions for 38 fairly simple butterflies, although many of them are minor variants of others and are not separately diagrammed. Interestingly, Toshie Takahama provided the preface for this booklet and inside the back cover is an advertisement for Nakano's Correspondence Course of Origami.

 A similar collaboration between Nakano and Kenneway was "Easy Origami" published in England by Viking Kestrel in a hard backed edition in 1985, with a Dutch edition called "Speels Origami", also in 1985. A small-format paperback of the English edition was published by Beaver in 1987. This book had originally been published in Japan as "Origami kan 1. Yasashii Origami" by Takahashi Shoten of Tokyo in 1981.

 On Nakano see the two parts of my posting to Origami-L on 9th October, 2001. It also appears on the BOSWebpage (

 On Wedding Origami, see my posting to Origami-L dated 4th November, 2000.

On Mecho and Ocho Butterflies, see my posting to Origami-L dated 24th June 2000.

Some time ago I promised a longer article on Mecho and Ocho butterflies, and on Japanese weddings and associated origami. I can only apologise for not keeping my promise. But I haven't forgotten it.

 I find that I wrote quite a long posting about weddings and origami to a private enquirer a few months ago. I will have another look at it, amend it if necessary and post it separately.

David Lister.

Grimsby, England.

Sun 24 Mar 2002

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