The Lister List

Kayaragusa, alias “Kan no mado”

I found myself responding to a query in Rec. Arts. Origami. It turned out to be longer than I intended and I thought that subscribers to Origami-L might like to see the result, so here it is. I precede it with the question that was asked. The following question, posted on 20th October, was from Aurele Duda:

"I'm a French student in musicology, and I want to write a piece of musical theatre based on the origami tradition. I have heard of a old Japanese Book named 'Kan-no-mado' which collected some text and diagram of utilitary, enjoyed and artistic foldings. Someone knows if it was published in another language or if it was available for cosultation on line ???".

My reply:

First, a note about the name, "Kan no mado" by which the work is usually known in the West. It appears that this is incorrect and came from a misreading of Japanese characters on back of the facsimile copy of the work in the Library of Congress.I understand that these characters do not appear on the original manuscript. They were read as Kan no mado" which would mean "Window of the Coldest Season." A correct reading would be "Fuyuno Mado", which means "Winter Window". To me, the difference does not appear to be particularly significant.

However, there is a further puzzle. The "Fuyuno Mado" forms the fourth section of the complete manuscript encyclopaedia and does not contain the two volumes of paperfolding. The Paper folding is contained in volumes 27 and 28 of the second section, which is called the Kayara-gusa. For this reason, the preferred name is Kayara-gusa, not Kan no mado. I do not know what Kayara-gusa means, but "gusa" means fragments of memoranda. The encyclopaedia is a collection of handwritten notes or jottings made by a private compiler and drawn from many sources.

I still do not know what is the correct name for the whole encyclopaedia. It is not a printed book, but a manuscript compilation in 233 volumes which look much like exercise books. It is said to have been compiled in 1845, although, I suspect that it took much more than a single year to research and write by and.

Whatever the technicalities, the name, "Window of the Coldest Season" does not seem to me to be at all inappropriate.

The original of the Encyclopaedia is still held in the library of the Osaka Asahi (newspaper) and when I visited Japan in 1994 I was afforded the rare privilege of seeing the original through the good offices of Mr. and Mrs. Yoshihide Momotani. (I was probably the first Westerner to see it since Professor Starr.) It was most impressive and the coloured pages were as crisp and vivid as on the day they were drawn.

Around 1920, a facsimile copy was written and drawn by hand for Professor Frederick Starr of Chicago University and when he died it passed with his papers into the Library of Congress in Washington. There it lay forgotten for thirty years. Largely through the promptings of Gershon Legman, Julia and Martin Brossman caused a search to be made in the Library of Congress and the Starr copy was found in March 1960. This was at a tike when the modern paperfolding movement was in its infancy and when there were still very few contacts between the West and Japan about paperfolding.

At that time, the buildings of the Osaka Asahi were being rebuilt and their library was in store, so that the original encyclopaedia was inaccessible. It was two or three years before the original was brought to light as a result of enquiries by Akira Yoshizawa.

Photocopies of the paperfolding sections of both the original encyclopaedia and of the hand-drawn facsimile copy made for Professor Starr of Chicago University were, at one time, distributed, but I do not know of any source from which copies could be obtained at present. It may be possible to obtain a photo-copy of the Starr facsimile from the Library of Congress. A comparison shows that the facsimile is an astonishingly exact copy of the original.

So far as I know, no printed copy of the original work owned by the Osaka Asahi has ever been published.

The original, longer edition of Isao Honda's "World of Origami" reproduces only a few of the models. As the text says, it was written before the Osaka Asahi original came to light, so that the source of his illustrations must have been the Starr copy.

Julia and Martin Brossman published and edition of the Starr copy as "A Japanese Paper folding Classic" in 1961. The publisher was The Pinecone Press of Washington. It reproduces each page of the original in slighly reduced form. However, each page is scattered with arabic numbers in red alongside the original Japanese numbers. this rather spoils the purity of the reproduction. To compensate, alongside each page is a wide margin giving and English translation of the Japanese text. In addition there are eighteen pages of a very interesting introduction written by the Brossmans.

"A Japanese Paper Folding Classic" is, of course, now out of print and it was published in a limited edition of only five hundred copies. Very occasionaly a copy turns up and is eagerly snatched up.

The only realistic way of seeing a copy is to find one in a library. Apart from public libraries, mainly in the United States, there are copies in the libraries of Origami USA and the British Origami Society. They are probably, however, held in their reserve collections and not in their lending libraries. It is just possible that the British Origami Society may have a copy available for lending to members. Why not write to ask?

There are only two other ancient works of Japanese recreational paperfolding. "Senbazuru Orikata", is a printed book published in 1797. It deals with the special subject of folding multiple cranes. A related work, "The Chushingura Orikata", also issued in 1797, is not a book, but two printed sheets of paper. It shows the characters in the famous play, "Chushingura", together with diagrams for folding the figures.

Unfortunately the history of Japanese origami is not very well documented. I should be interested in hearing more about your proposed musical work.

David Lister

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