The Lister List

Kawai and Others

Dorigami (Dorothy Kaplan) asked whether the Japanese she met at Florence Temko's house at the time of the New York World Fair in 1965 could have been Kawai. Florence Temko replied with her recollections of the visit to New York of Japanese folders led by Toyoaki Kawai and confirmed that she entertained the Japanese party, led by Kawaii at her home.

The visit of the Japanese party led by Kawai was one of the more significant events in the history of modern origami. Before that visit, contacts between the West and Japan had been few. In 1953, Gershon Legman, by then living in France made the first contact with Yoshizawa. Then, beginning in 1957, Isao Honda began to write origami books in English for sale in the West. Lillian Oppenheimer came to know of Yoshizawa in 1958 and in 1959, visited him in Tokyo and also arranged for models by him ti be shown at the Cooper Union Museum, New York exhibition of origami, "Plane Geometry and Fancy Figures" But these were no other contacts.

Then in spring 1964, Florence Temko (who worked as a travel agent at the time, was fortunate enough to visit Tokyo, where she met Yoshizawa. By chance she also met Prof. Toyoaki Kawai and visited him in his studio, while he was giving an origami class. She also had the honour of visiting Kosho Uchiyama, hidden in his monastery in a suburb of Kyoto, where he showed her his splendid Buddha. Florence gives a report of her visit to Japan in the Origamian for summer, 1964.

Also in the Origamian for Summer, 1964 there is a report that at long last, Lillian Oppenheimer had received a reply from folders in Japan, including Yasuo Nakanishi, who was a historian of origami, Toyoaki Kawai and Kunihiko Kasahara, then a young man. Both Kawai and Kasahara had attended classes held by Yoshizawa, who, according to the Japanese tradition, consequently regarded them as his pupils. He was very upset when they struck out on their own. In fact, Kawai became a teacher of origami in his own right, taking pupils, in the old Japanese tradition of master and pupil, so that pupils were thereafter bound to him. He called himself a professor of origami. It seems that it was in his capacity that he decided to lead a party of Japanese to New York on the occasion of the New York World Fair in 1965.

The Kawai visit to New York was significant for something else besides the fact that it helped to establish relations between Japanese and American folders. One less important member of the party was Mr. Toshie Takahama. She said little, even though she was fluent in English and could understand everything that was said. But she observed mush and what stuck her most was the free and easy way that American folders met together as equals. Even the teachers did not consider themselves above the pupils.

After Mrs. Takahama returned to Japan, in 1967, she decided to form a group, similar to the one she had attended in New York, which would be different from those of master folders in the Japanese tradition like those of Yoshizawa and Kawai. She gathered together a group of six folders, who called themselves the "Sosaku Origami Group, '67" (the Creative Origami Group). The held meetings in Tokyo and Yokohama and began to produce a magazine. Members, apart from Mrs. Takahama, included Kasahara. Hideaaaki Kawahata, Misunobu Sonobe (famed as the originator of his module) and Atsuchi Miyashita. The Revd. Kosho Uchiyama appeared unexpectedly at one of their meetings and, although a Buddhist, he demonstrated the folding of a Virgin Mary with the Christ Child. As Toshie Takahama commented, the figure seemed to symbolise the birth of a new era which would give renewed life to the origami world.

And so it was. The Sosaku Origami Group itself had only a comparatively short life, but soon the Nippon Origami Association (NOA) was founded on somewhat different principles on the initiative of a number of businessmen. But NOA opened up origami in Japan: anyone could join it and it continues as one of the leading Japanese Origami Societies today. There was a new spirit in Japanese origami and it led to local origami groups and eventually to the dynamic group of talented young folders who called themselves "Origami Tanteidan" (the Origamai Detectives), now renamed the "Japan Origami Art Society", although they retain the name "Tanteidan" for their magazine.

Yoshizawa continued to hold their classes and to attract a loyal following and many westerners have visited Yoshizawa . An American folder, Gloria Farison spent some time in Japan from 1970 to 1973 and studied under Kawai for up to 36 hours each week. She gave a long account of her visit in The issue of FOLD, No 13 for May, 1987. Sadly, she died some years ago.

As a result of the developments arising out of Kawai's visit to New York, Japanese Origami changed rapidly and it was soon absorbing the new techniques for folding discovered in the West. 1965 was a most significant year for Origami throughout the world.

David Lister Grimsby, England.

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Rabbit by Stephen O'Hanlon