The Lister List

Cutting in Origami

One or two people have asked for more evidence to illustrate the suggestion that cutting in Origami was more prevalent in the past that at the present, or een that the further back you go, so cutting increases. I feel that I must give some answer to this query, before the subject goes cold. However, to deal with it adequately would require some time to be spent on research and I simply do not have any spare time at present. I will, therefore give a reply off the top of my head with a caveat that everything should be checked before being taken as gospel truth.

I do not know who may have stated this proposition that the further back in time you go, so cutting increases. It is true that there was more cutting in the past, because the present-day fascination with uncut paperfolding is a recent phenomenon. In the past, people were quite content to accept the idea of "papercrafts" as a whole, encompassing both cut and uncut origami and cutting techniques, such as Kirigami as well. Let us look at a few historical aspects.

1. One of the earliest instances of decorative paperwork is in the zig-zagged white paper hangings called O-shide which are still used to decorate Shinto temples in Japan. There are similar smaller ornaments used in Shinto ceremonies called "gohei" and other names. They date probably from the Heian period (782 - 1185). O-shide depend heavily on cutting and although they involve folding as well, they scarcely qualify as "Paperfolding" in any ordinary sense of the word.

2. The Heian period also saw the widespread development of pleated ceremonial paper wrappers known as "tsutsumi", of which the present-day betrothal wrappers still sometimes exchanged in Japan and also noshi are survivals. This was a secular, not a religious development and there were several schools of the art with different styles. Tsutsumi were, however, invariably uncut . Tsutsumi were not related to recreational paperfolding.

3. The earliest paperfoldings of which we have evidence in any way resembling our present day recreational origami were the Mecho and Ocho butterflies used in Shinto wedding ceremonies. They too, appear to date from the Heian Period (which, I must point out, lasted for four hundred years and is therefore only a vague point of reference).. The butterflies seem to have developed from a paper cover placed over the neck of a sake cup, which has then been pleated to make it tidy. This results in something like a "waterbomb" base and the Ocho and Mecho butterflies are developed from the waterbomb base or something similar. There is no set form of them - examples vary in form and elaboration, but the majority of them (perhaps all ) are uncut.

4. Although there are suggestions that recreational paperfolding in Japan began in the Muromachi period (1333 - 1568) (another long period of two hundred years) I have seen no firm evidence so far The first firm evidence of recreational paperfolding comes after 1600, as amply demonstrated by Mr Takagi in his book. The models he has traced are the classic crane, boats, containers and simple human figures. They are similar to figures know today and as far as I can see, they do not involve cutting.

5. The first two documents recording recreational origami are the Sembazuro Orikata (which is a printed book) and the Chushingura Orikata (which is a printed sheet), both of which date from 1797. As everyone knows , the Sembazyra Orikata is a specialised work in which a sheet of paper is cut into various combinations of smaller squares linked at the corners, from which linked sets of large and small classic cranes are folded. Obviously the basic subdivision of the square involves cutting, but this is merely a preliminary. The individual cranes are uncut.

6. The Chushingura Orikata gives instructions for the folding a a whole series of human figures, sitting, standing and running. It was a style of folding that continued to be prevalent throughout the 19th Century. The models in the Chushingura Orikata are heavily cut, usually starting from heavily incised squares or diamond shaped pieces of paper.

7. The Kayaragusa or Kan notmado, which is a hand-drawn manuscript dates from about 1850, but the figures from it are thought to have originated in the same school as the Sembazuru Orikata and Chushingura Orikata. It also includes many examples of Tsutsumi wrappers. Once more the recreational figures in it are very heavily cut, starting from incised bases. There is no prejudice against cutting whatsoever in this historical classic of paperfolding.

8. The Kayaragusa contains several sitting figures of the Emperor and Empress, which were popular in the 19th Century and which are still used for displays of dolls in the traditional Girls' Festival. The ones in Kayaragusa are heavily cut. Later ones are less so, but a common characteristic of such sitting dolls is that the point which becomes the head is threaded up through a slit in the body of the paper.

9. Kosho Uchiyama has recalled that his grandmother was an accomplished paperfolder. Her collection of folds was lost in an earthquake and an air raid, but he has said that her folding was the same as in Kayaragusa. It was obviously a fairly widespread style of folding, which appears to have run parallel with the simpler children's style of folding, which used cutting far less.

10. Kosho Uchiyama's father, Michio Uchiyama was also a paperfolder, who produced several books on the subject. A book of his folds was published in 1931 under the title of "Origami Kyo Hon" by Mizuhiro Shiki. It is largely a collection of figures in the Chushingura tradition, using extensive cuts. Michio Uchiyama later developed a particular style of folding which used very heavy incisions into the paper, more complicated than in Chushingura Orikata or Kayaragusa. He said that this enabled the paper to be folded with the least wastage of paper. The style is known as "Kirikomi Origami". He published book in this style, although I do not have the date of it immediately to hand

11. Kosho Uchiyama, himself began by using fairly frequent cutting, as in his "Origami Zukan" (1958), but in his later books the amount of cutting was reduced, no doubt in response to the prevailing prejudice against origami with cuts.

12. Akiraa Yoshizawa rarely, if ever uses cuts: perhaps once or twice, for something like a prawn's feelers. He does however, often create his models from two separate squares: are they a rectangle cut into two?

13. On the other hand Isao Honda, whose models often appear to be derived from those of Yoshizawa frequently introduces small cuts to form appendages of an animal or to achieve moves which Yoshizawa manages without cuts.

14. Although most of the classic recreational folds in Japan do not use cutting, it should be remembered that books of origami for very young children often contain figures which arc heavily and blatantly cut to shape, such as birds, animals and flowers.

15. The making of paper dolls is an ancient craft, which is separate from paperfolding. Some of its products, such as a magnificent series by Tohie Takahama sometimes resemble paperfolded models, but they are really entirely distinct.

16. The number of models familiar in Western paperfolding is not nearly as great as those recorded in Japan. Our boats, hats, gliders and boxes are, however, for the most part uncut and it cannot be said that there has ever been a tradition of cut paperfolding in the West. This does not mean to say that there have not been instances of cutting, usually to create animals' appendages, but there have been no instances of anything like "Kirikomi" origami. We also have our own tradition of paper cutting, but that is something quite separate. Even in the West, however, the distinction between uncut paperfolding and other papercrafts has been slow to develop in people's perceptions. Typically, in the 19th century and even as late as the 1940s (Joseph Leeming's books, e.g. "Fun with Paper", (1939)) paper folding, cutting , modelling and paper tricks were al run together as part of the same complex of crafts.

17 When Robert Harbin came to write "Paper Magic" in 1956, he tried so set down rules for folding: \"(1) The paper model must be achieved by folding only, without the aid of scissors and glue." But he added: "As with all rules, certain exceptions have already been acknowledged. There are standard models in existence which, with a small scissors snip, become so perfect in appearance that the end is held to justify the means. The models of the Elephant and the pack mule (pages 57 and 58) are examples of this. ".The two models he refers to were fairly recent models, which shows that cutting was still not anathema at that time.

18. Robert Harbin wrote before the modern movement for Creative paperfolding got under way in the West. Since he wrote, the popularity of uncut origami has greatly increased to the exclusion of paperfolding using cutting. But not entirely so. People frequently feel compelled to ask whether or not cutting is permissible.

19. The position in Japan today, among creative paperfolders, seems to be much the same as it is in the West , although I cannot think that there are not specialist paperfolders around who devote themselves to the older cut origami styles.

This, then is a rapid summary. I am sorry its confusion and for the length to which it has grown, but I also apologise for its inadequacies. I am sure that it contains many inaccuracies, not to speak of awful gaffs., but, as I often say, half a loaf is better than none and I hope that this note begins to answer the questions that some of our subscribers have been asking.

David Lister Grimsby, England. 

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