The Lister List

Isao Honda’s “World Of Origami”

Zack Brown wrote on acquiring a complete copy of Isao Honda's "World of Origami" that he found the following comment written by Honda in a review of Yoshizawa's "Origami Dokuhon 1" :

<< Among Yoshizawa's works there are some highly creative pieces, but they employ curved lines and are so complicated that no one but Yoshizawa can fold them. Works of this sort are a deviation from the real nature of origami. Since Yoshizawa uses basic forms that have descended to us from the past as the starting point for all his works we can call his folds new designs, but they are by no means original. >>

On the previous page of the complete "The World of Origami" (p.261) Honda lists some of his own books (there were many more than these - curiously, nearly all were in English) and particularly his "Origami Shuko" for which he gives the date 1941. However, Gershon Legman told me that it was, in fact, published in 1944. Nearly all of the copies of the book were destroyed in the bombing of Tokyo and there are very few copies remaining. At one time Honda tried to deny its existence.

In his comment on "Origami Shuko", Honda maintains that the Peacock that it contains is his own. This refers to the fact that it has also been claimed as Yoshizawa's and at one time was the subject of considerable dispute.

But what Honda does not say in his comment on "Origami Shuko" in "World of Origami" is that "Origami Shuko" also contained a section of folds by Yoshizawa himself!

Furthermore, the complete edition of "the World of Origami" itself contains work by Yoshizawa. On pages 218 and 219, there are instructions for four "Rhombus Constructions" (folded from rhombus-shaped paper. They are openly credited to Yoshizawa and are interesting in their own right, because they show that at one time, whatever his general approach to paperfolding, Yoshizawa was experimenting with modular constructions.

What had happened was as follows and it was told to me personally by Yoshizawa. Probably in the early 1940s, before ever he was famous, Yoshizawa had, unaided and uninstructed, developed his new skills in paperfolding. He was completely unknown, but he knew that Honda was a known paper folder (he had published his first book in Japanese in 1931) and managed to get in touch with him to ask for his advice. The net upshot was that Yoshizawa let Honda have a collection of his own folds for study and possibly for publication. Several of these folds were included by Honda in his book "Origami Shuko", all properly attributed to Yoshizawa. (Each of them has Yoshizawa's name in Japanese characters by the side of it.) I have photocopies of two of the pages and the models are in Yoshizawa's typical style. I understand that there rest of the models in the book are undistinguished, although I have not seen them. From the large number of books issued by Honda (mostly in English), we know that the models he included were mainly traditional and collected models and it is difficult to distinguish any original work of his own.

When I first wrote to Robert Harbin about forty years ago, I commented on Honda's "How to Make Origami", which then impressed me, and in its way, still does, if only for its charming design and presentation. However Harbin bluntly replied (in capitals) "HONDA STEALS YOSHIZAWA'S MODELS". (No doubt he had this from Gershon legman, who was closely in touch with Yoshizawa from 1953 onwards.) And this does seem to be true. If you compare Honda's books with those of Yoshizawa, model after model can be seen as a slight modification of models by Yoshizawa. In particular Honda employs Yoshizawa's technique of using two modified bird bases to form the front and back ends of four-legged creatures. (This was at a time before blintzed bases had been developed which enabled quadrupeds to be folded from a single square of paper).

All this led to conflict and bad blood between Yoshizawa and Honda and it must have contributed to Yoshizawa's subsequent protectionist attitude to the copying and adaptation of his models.

In the light of this, Honda's comments on Yoshizawa in his review of "Origami Dokuhon" in "The World of Origami" make for curious reading, especially the sentence: "Since Yoshizawa uses basic forms that have descended to us from the past as the starting point for all his work we {notice the Royal "we"!] can call his folds new designs, but they are by no means original".

Even more curious is the paragraph in the blurb on the back flap of the dust cover of the complete edition of "The World of Origami":

"In 1941, he [Honda} published "Origami Shuko", the book in which he not only treated traditional folding methods, but also introduced his own compound origami folds and his famous peacock. As the leader of today's origami scene, Mr. Honda has naturally had a large number of pupils. among them the noted Akira Yoshizawa".

I really should like to have a full copy of "Origami Shuko".

David Lister

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Rabbit by Stephen O'Hanlon