The Lister List

Classic Noshi

Information about Classic Noshi

Dear Sr. Molina,

In your posting to Origami-L yesterday you wrote:

"I am president of Gaditano Origami Group. Our next Exhibition is about Traditional Customer in Japan. I need Information about Noshis, I am trying to get the book Noshi by Isao Honda, English version, but I don`t know how to get it. And Sites on Internet about Noshis."

Although I have been a member of Asociacion Espanola de Papiroflexia for some years, I regret that I have not been acquainted with your own group and am pleased to make your acquaintance. I assume that the group is based at Cadiz. I have looked at your Web site and am very impressed.

You ask about sites on the Internet about Noshi. I have not carried out a thorough search, but my impression is that there are not many sites about noshi. One that does exist was put together by myself as a posting to Origami-l. You can find it on the British Origami Society Web site at

If you look for the index page under my name, you will find that there are other sites that I have contributed to Origami-L, some of which may be relevant for your present research.

To avoid overloading this E-mail, I will post a copy of my article to you direct but I m posting this note to Origami-L because there may be some other subscribers who will be interested in the topic of noshi and tsutsumi.

Noshi has been discussed several times on Origami-L during the past few years. You can search the Origami-L Archives, which are kept by Maarten van Gelder of the Origami Interest Group at the Rijksuniversiteit at Groningen, Holland. This site was, in fact, mentioned in "Pajarita" 66, recently. The URL of the archives is:

You can also search the Origami-L archives through Joseph Wus Origami Page at:

Joseph Wu's site also gives links to most of the other origami sites throughout the world.

Look for the word "Search" and click on it. But be patient, because the archives are now voluminous and take time to search. It is best to search through one or two years at a time.


This is a very involved and quite a difficult subject. There is no adequate account in English and I doubt if there is one in Spanish either.

Strictly speaking a noshi is a wrapper supposed to enclose a strip of stretched abalone, which is attached to gifts as a sign of good fortune. In practice, a strip of yellow paper is substituted for real abalone, or the whole thing may be merely printed. A noshi is just one example of a "tsutsumi", which is the Japanese word for the English "wrapper". Formal "tsutsumi" used to be used for wrapping gifts and especially gifts of flowers. The form of each of the tsutsumi appropriate for a particular gift was closely regulated according to several schools of etiquette, just as there are several schools of Ikebana today.

You mention the book "Noshi - Classic Origami in Japan" by Isao Honda. This is a fairly small paper-backed book which was published in 1964 by Publications Trading Company of Tokyo and Rutland Vermont. It is, however, very rare and it would only be possible to buy it on the second-hand book market. Copies turn up very infrequently. But a copy was sold at a meeting of the British Origami Society last April, so they do exist and it is best to live in hope!

Hondas book gives a brief introduction to the subject of Noshi and Tsutsumi and would be better than nothing at all, but, frankly, it is a very poor book. Honda was not a scholar. He collected folds from wherever he could find them and he often copied or adapted folds by other folders, notably by Akira Yoshizawa. "NoshI" deals only briefly with classic noshi and tsutsumi and then goes on to include a whole collection of what Honda calls "informal noshi". Perhaps it would be better to call them "informal tsutsumi", for they are decorative wrappers for various gifts. In practice, however, words are confused and "tsutsumi" are often called "noshi", even if this is not strictly correct. In general, Honda himself is not at all clear about terminology.

Honda goes on to pad out his book with twelve pages about folding dinner napkins, which have nothing whatsoever to do with noshi or tsutsumi. He learnt his napkin folding when he was an art student in France and England and the folds in his book that he calls "Japanese napkin folds " are merely traditional Japanese models like the crane and the samurai helmet origami models which re folded from western-style dinner napkins instead of paper.

While including napkins, which re irrelevant, Honda omits some aspects of tsutsumi completely. For instance, he has nothing to say about betrothal tsutsumi, which (apart from noshi) are the one kind of tsutsumi that are still alive today in Japan. It is a declining tradition, but at formal betrothal (not wedding) ceremonies, it is traditional for the two families to exchange gifts, which are formally wrapped in tsutsumi wrappers and tied with elaborate knots of mizuhiki string. One of the gifts is usually a full-sized noshi, about 30 or 40 centimetres long. Another may be wrapped chopsticks , or even a box of chopsticks, There may be a gift of money, carefully wrapped in a formal envelope. There is no rigid series of gifts, although some are tradition. Sets are exchanged in sets of five, seven or nine, as agreed by the two families before-hand. Such betrothal tsutsumi can still be bought at specialist shops in Japan. Japanese bridal books, very much like the magazines published for brides in the West, still sometimes have section with illustrations about betrothal tsutsumi

But if Hondas book is not really adequate, what books on the subject can be recommended?

One of the best short accounts of noshi and tsutsumi and Japanese ceremonial paperfolding generally is in French: Dominique Buisson: "Manuel pratique dorigami", published by Arted of Paris in 1988. I do not know whether or not it is still in print or not. (Even Buisson does not, however, have much to say about betrothal tsutsumi.) The same authors "The Art of Japanese Paper", published in French and English versions by Terrail of Paris in 1992 also has sections about tsutsumi and other Japanese paper customs.

One source that would not at first sight by relevant is "Origami Science and Art", the proceedings of the Second International meeting of Origami Science held at Otsu, Japan in 1994. Makio Araki had a collection of tsutsumi wrappers on display at the exhibition which was held as part of the Meeting. Araki is the acknowledged Japanese expert on the subject and his paper on Tsutsumi, delivered to the Meeting is printed on the Proceedings with several pages of illustrations of formal tsutsumi. Sadly the article is in Japanese, but a summary of his paper is given in English in the Abstract which was prepared as a preliminary to the meeting.

Makio Araki has written a large and sumptuous book about tsutsumi in Japanese, with instructions for folding many formal and informal tsutsumi together with photographs of the completed folds. I understand the title is Nippon No Origami Shu, published by Tankou sha in 1995. ISBN 4-473-01389-8. The book has been available from the Kinokunija Bookstore in New York and if still in print, should be obtainable from book sellers dealing in Japanese books.

Another more accessible and colourful book by Araki is "Oru tsutsu mu" meaning, I understand "Making Shapes". It is published by Tan ko sha and has gone into three editions, so it should be still available. Silke Schroder of Viereck Verlag, Origami Deutschland still had copies available at the Origami Deutschland Convention last month. Even though this book is in Japanese, it is well illustrated in colour and black and white and much can be learnt from it about both formal and informal tsutsumi.

For Japanese customs in general, I would recommend (as I often do) "Japanese Crafts and Customs, A Seasonal Approach" by Kunio Ekiguchi and Ruth S. McCreedy, published by Kodensha International in 1987 and in a large paper-backed edition in 1992 (ISBN 4-7700-1687-5). This book gives customs for every season of the year, with particular emphasis on customs involving paper.

Another book which is very valuable for explaining Japanese traditional customs is Mock Joyas "Things Japanese". This is a famous book which has run into many editions.

Noshi and Tsutsumi are , of course, not the only Japanese traditional customs involving paper. The Mecho and Ocho Butterflies used especially in traditional wedding ceremonies are most interesting and they may be one of the origins of recreational paperfolding.. So are the Gohei and Osheda, which are the zig-zagged shapes of paper suspended on ceremonial ropes outside Shinto shrines and other sacred sites. The same zig-zagged shapes are also used in ceremonial wands used by Shino priests in purificatory ceremonies. Buisson has a short account about them. Buisson also has a little to say in both his books about Buddhist paper symbols, but little has been written about the Buddhist use of paper.

Finally, may I also refer you to my notes about Japanese Paper Dolls, another Japanese tradition about which I posted a note to Origami-L only two days ago?

I hope that these notes will be of help to you and I send my best wishes for a very successful exhibition.

Yours sincerely,

David Lister.

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