The Lister List

Isao Honda’s “How to Make Origami”

Today is St. George's Day - the nearest thing the English have to a national day; although it is not a public holiday and nobody would dream of celebrating it. It's even too early in the year to find our national flower,a rose to wear. It's just that you wake up in the morning and think: It's St. George's Day - that's nice!".

So I will celebrate it with a short contribution to Origami-L, inspired by Charles Knuffke's reporting of a copy of Isao Honda's "How to Make Origami" for sale by Stiltjack Books of Dorchester in England. US$58.00 seems to me outrageously expensive for this book. Fortunately I already have a copy.

I have a great affection for this book. It was only the third book of paperfolding that I acquired after Maying Soong's "The Art of Chinese Paper Folding" and Robert Harbin's "Paper Magic" and it was really this book which opened my eyes to the very different world of the new Japanese origami. It was published by different publishers in Britain and the United States, but in an identical format in 1961. Honda had published several other paper-backed books anonymously, under the nominal auspices of the "Toto Origami Club" and the "Asahi Origami Club" in 1958 and 1959. (It is thought that these clubs never existed and were only a front.) But "How to Make Origami" was the first issued under Honda's own name.

The Toto and Asahi books and "How to Make Origami" are all in a similar format, with very colourful pictures drawn as backgrounds to actural folded models stuck to the pages. One can imagine dozens of little Japanese girls busy folding models specially for the book. And pretty accurate the folding is too.

Unlike its predecessors, "How to Make Origami" is a hardbound book and I think that it is the nicest of the series. The background pictures are better and wittier; the models chosen are more interesting. I don't think that I think this merely because this was the first of Honda's books I acquired. I believe that in "How to Make Origami" everything comes together to make a classic book. (Perhaps fifty-eight dollars isn't too much for it after all!) I repeatedly come across leading Western folders who say that they began folding after acquiring a copy of "How to make Origami". I regret that I haven't made a list of them, and wish I had noted them down.

Among the models included are the simple swan , the paper dart , a box and the windmill, all of which were known in the West. The classic crane, a canary and an owl, all form the bird base follow. The there are a cat, a kangaroo and a fox, all made from two pieces. One of the best models is a lobster with a crimped tail., but with cuts to separate the claws.

Many of these figures were completely unknown to me. I was still at the stage where i was vaguely under the impression that there was a fixed number of paperfolded models to be discovered and when they were listed, the job would be done.This book finally blew this notion to pieces. It also introduced me to the developments from the bird base which Unamuno had discovered early in the 20th Century and Yoshizawa rediscovered and which dominated folding until the mid 1960s. So, as I say, I have always regarded "How to Make Origami" with affection.

Even so, my attitude to Honda himself has had to be modified over the years. It is generally accepted that he copied his ideas from Akira Yoshizawa. In fact, in 1944, Honda published a book in Japanese under the title of "Origami Shuko", which had a separate section of models by Yoshizawa clearly identified with his name. Among these models Yoshizawa demonstrated for the first time his two-piece models made from the bird base. (For a reason only known to himself, Honda insisted that "Origami Shuko" was published in 1941, but this was not true.)

Honda's books are full of models which, while not being identical with Yoshizawa's models, clearly use the same techniques and are related to them. Honda often achieves his figures with the help of cuts, which are not present in the related Yoshizawa models. Thus Honda's owl is cut, but not Yoshizawa's very similar owl. Honda's Canary is cut, but not Yoshizawa's similar Pigeon ( See Robert Harbin:Origami !").

Honda issued very few books in Japanese, but he had about twenty books published in English in the United States and England. He tended to repeat his models in book after book, before summarising them all in his magnum opus, "The World of Origami", published in 1965. (I refer to the hardbacked edition. The paper-backed edition was abridged.) Undoubtedly, by publishing his books in English, Honda contributed to the development of Origami in Western countries. The surge of origami books of Japanese origin by Honda and other writers undoubtedly prepared the ground in which Lillian Oppenheimer's Origami Center could take root and flourish. I think that we can give Honda the credit for this, even if, in the light of history, he must be judged a collector and a copier rather than an inspired creative artist.

Yoshizawa's own books, beginning with Origami Dokuhon I (first published in 1957) appeared only in Japanese and circulated in the West only among a few of the cognoscenti. But in the long run, it has been Yoshizawa and not Honda who has received the greatest honours This is only just. But let us not forget Honda and his cheerful, colourful books and the way they introduced many westerners to origami and prepared the ground for greater things.

Now, I wonder what all that has to so with St. George?

David Lister Grimsby, England.

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