The Lister List

Documenting Early Paper Folding

This e-mail ( or one something like it) should have been sent off yesterday, but just as I finished writing it the whole thing vanished before my eyes and I now have to knuckle down and write it (or something like it again. So, I apologise if some things I write may seem outdated.

I was very grateful for Andrew Hudson for his explanation about the reference to Oka Shunboku. In my ignorance I was not familiar with this name, although I was aware of his book with the titloe of "Ranma Zushiki" (Ranma Sketches). It was published in three volumes.

I did a Google search against both "Oka Shunboku" and "Ranma Zushiki" and was surprised how many references came up for what is, by any stretch of imagination, a pretty remote subject. One page immediately caught my eye. This was <> This gives various forms for the name of the author of the book, Ranma Zushiki namely, Oka Hayato, Ohoka Hayato and Shimboku Ooka. Perhaps it is because of this confusion that his name is not better known

This page is very interesting because it offers for sale a copy of the original 1734 edition of Ranma Zushki. And the price asked is no less than $5,500 !

For those who are not familiar with the work, it consists of drawings of decorative carved wooden panels called Transoms" which are placed above Japanese doorways. Most are of floral designs, by one (and only one) depicts several paperfolded figures, including boats and cranes and the significant Tematabako, which is a modular cube and which is the earliest example of modular folding so far known to us.

But the Ursus Books advertisement is also interesting because it is states that this copy it belonged the Gershon Legman. He was the pioneering student of paperfolding and its history. It is said that he bought it at a Hachette sale in 1954. Two years earlier he had issued his flimsy booklet, "A Bibliography of Paper Folding", but in it he makes no mention of the Ranma Zushiki. We can only conjecture about how it came to his attention. He was, however, an avid book collector, especially of books relevant to the principal subject he was interested in, which was erotic folklore. Perhaps his interest in paperfolding had become known to book dealers and they drew his attention to it. What he paid for it in 1954 is not known , but we do know that Legman was far from being a wealthy man. I'm sure that he would have blinked at a price anything approaching $5,500

The best account of Ramna Zushki is, indeed, Kunihiko Kasahara's "The Art and Wonder of Origami" (2004).The work is introduced on page 48 and pages 49 to 60 give a full discussion of the models which the Ranma Zushiki depicts. On page 80 is an account of how the Tamatebako and the method of folding it was discovered. The first modern depiction of the paerfolding illustration in Ranma Zushki was by Satoshi Takagi in his book Koten-ni-miri-origami which is usually known in English as "Origami through the Classics". it was published in 1993.

"The Art and Wonder of Origami" was not Kasahara's first reference to the Rama Zuskhi. He refers to it briefly in his book "Extreme Origami" (2002), which was a translation of an earlier work in German. In "Extreme Origami" he does, however, include the sad fairy story of Urashima-Taro which is the background to the Tanatebako. It is a story superficially like that of Pandora's box, which contained all the misfortunes of the world until, out of curiosity, she opened the box and all the woes contained in it escaped into the world.

I was grateful to you Anne `for your explanation of the meaning of the word "transom" in its Japanese context. I have always associated transoms with ships and boats, but I now find that in the West, as in Japan, they are boards placed over doors and windows.

Gradually we are gaining mor information about early paperfolding. Satoshi Takagi must be given credit for searching old books and prints for illustrations of paperfolding. Masao Okamura, the outstanding Japanese historian of paperfolding by a comparison of books worked out how the Tamatebako was folded and constructed, But Kunihiko Kasahara must also be given credit for filling in the practical details in his recent series of books.

David Lister

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Rabbit by Stephen O'Hanlon