The Lister List


On 11th September, Dothothy Engleman wrote, in reply to Louise:

"I hope David Lister heeds your call and will let us know about the history of kusudamas. I found some lovely kusudamas on the net."

I feel flattered that I should be regarded as omniscient about everything to do with origami! On the contrary, my knowledge of kusudamas is not very extensive and until today I haven't even kept a file about them. I must apologise for my delay in replying: I started this posting two days ago, but we have had a guest staying with us and have not managed to give very much time to the computer. Nevertheless, Clare Chamberlain's welcome posting this morning, which gives a credible explanation of Myriam Narnolaru's original query about birds flying from Kusudamas (something that I have never previously heard of) has revived the subject. I have looked up the web site mentioned by Myriam, which refers to birds flying out of kusudamas. It has the heading: "Capital Gains: Taking Care of Business, so it seems a very unlikely source for origami and I wonder how ever Myriam happened upon it! A few lines before the reference to kusudamas and birds, it mentions a business get-together and says: "The shindig also will feature a Japanese version of the Pinata, known as a "kusudama." [pinata should correctly spelt with a tllde (Spanish squiggly accent) over the n, but I'm avoiding this refinement because I'm not sure that it would transmit in plain text.]

I find, in fact that "pinata" is the name given in Mexico to one of those "thingies" referred to by Clare, that you hit in order to scatter the contents. In case anyone is interested in making a comparison between the Japanese "kusudama" and the Mexican "pinata", my source ("Games of the World" by Frederic V. Grunfeld, published in 1975 by Ballantine Books of New York) says: "The word "pinata" derives from the Spanish verb "apinar", to join or bind in a bundle". In the past "pinatas" were made to resemble clusters of flowers and fruit, but today animal and bird forms are popular....... In some communities, the breaking of the "pinata" is given a religious significance. The "pinata" represents the devil, tempting mankind with the promise of untold pleasure (the treats hidden inside). The blindfolded child [who hits the pinata to break it open] represents the strength of the Christian faith which must destroy the evil spirit....As soon as the pinata is broken open, the children scramble to pick up s many of the scattered treats that they can. .The "pinata" custom also occurs in Spain and even in India".

It would seem from this that although they are superficially the same, the "kusudama" and the "pinata" are quite different, both in their origins and in their present purposes.

Kusudamas seem to be in the air. Only this morning the newsletter of the Israeli Origami Society arrived and the first item in it is a kusudama by Yasuko Suyama. Or rather it is a single unit that can be joined with others to make a kusudama. Accompanying it are also instructions for a "connecting unit" by Tomako Fuse. These two units can be joined together in any number of ways to create kusudamas of various patterns, limited only by the imagination of the creator.

On Kusudamas, the short article from "Things Japanese", by Mock Joya, the Japanese journalist, who died in 1963 is informative and deserves to be quoted:

"When new restaurants or pichinko halls are opened many wreaths of artificial flowers and also several kusudama, or bright balls of blossoms with long tassels of many colours are displayed at the entrance. This use of kusudama is quite recent. Formerly it was used only on such festive occasions as New Year, Dolls' Festival or May 5, Boys' Festival.

"Kusudama (medicine ball) is believed to have originated in the Heaian Period (794 - 1192). At first fragrant woods and herbs were placed in a small cloth bag, which was decorated with blossoms of sobu or iris and other flowers. Long silk threads of five different colours were attached to it. This was hung in the house on May 5 to dispel evil spirits and disease.

The Emperor invited nobles and officials to Butokuden Palace on this day and gave to each a kusudma and drinks of sake. It was a ceremony to insure the happiness and good health of all. This ancient custom of giving kusudama continued until the beginning of the 17th century. It was discontinued by the Emperor Gomizuo (1611-29). "Since that time, kusudama has lost all its connection with Court functions. It came to be used as an ornament in the households of the common people, or as a plaything for children. Thus, the original meaning of kusudama to ward off evil and sickness with the fragrant medicines and woods became forgotten."

The Shumakov's Lecture, no. 5 on their web site, mentioned by Dorothy Engleman, adds further information, which I have not come across elsewhere and I should be interested to know where it came form. They write that in the 10 th and 11th centuries it was customary for people to give to each other on the fifth day of the fifth moon, colourful pendant spheres made of paper called kusudama. [This tallies with Mock Joya's account because the modern equivalent of the fifth day of the fifth month is 5th May, which is the Boys' Festival, now officially, designated as Children's Day in modern Japan.]

The Shumakovs write that by night kusudama were hung up above people's pillows or attached to curtains. They were filled with aromatic herbs to protect people from illnesses. By day men hung them on their belts and women used them to decorate their sleeves

I other words, in the days when diseases were thought to be caused by noxious vapours, the kusudama originated as a bundle of sweet-smelling herbs and flowers to ward off the causes of illness. With the passage of time the decorative functions of the kusudama replaced its health-giving functions and flowers and herbs came to be replaced by paper flowers that were strung together to form the kusudama with which we are now familiar.

The kusudama has its equivalent in the west in a pomander of sweet-smelling herbs, such as might be hung in a wardrobe or the nosegays that are still carried on some ceremonial occasions in England by judges and by the dishes of pot-pourri, dishes filled with dried flowers and herbs which housewives sometimes set around the house or in small bags which they place among clothing.

There is no set form of kusudama and it has become the subject of individual creativity in the same way as any other kind of origami. In its simplest form it is a number of origami flowers threaded together by their lower ends and then drawn together to from a ball. The traditional origami lily makes an ideal subject for this. In recent years, however, kusudama have taken the form of modular creations, made in the manner of polyhedra. Traditionally, however, a kusudma should have a bundle of brightly coloured ribbons hanging underneath it.

Many books on origami contain one or two kusudma. But I have found several that deal specifically with kusudma. There is even one in English, although written by a Japanese. This is "Kusudama Ball Origami" by Makoto Yamaguchi (0870408631). It is obtainable from Kim's Crane and probably from other suppliers or origami books. It contains instructions for twenty-six kusudma of various kinds, including the traditional "flower" ball and the more recent modular type.

Another small book devoted to the subject is "Kusudama", by Kasuhiro Kano and published by NOA Books in 1988. (ISBN 4-418-88504-8).This is in Japanese, but with titles and, where known, creators in English. It contains instructions for about forty kusudama , some traditional and some more modular in style. There are some fascinating designs.

Yoshihde Momotania and Tomoko Fuse, in their different fields, two of Japan's leading creative paperfolders, have both published books devoted to kusudama. Yoshihide Momotani's book is named "Origami Flower Ball" and was published in 1994 (ISBN4-900747-02-5). It is in Japanese, but, like all of his recent books, it has titles in English and the models are highly individualistic. Many of his kusudama bear the name of a flower, such as Bougainvilea or Bellflower, and the finished creation has the characteristics of the flower whose name it bears. Some of his models are traditional; others use wired frames; some employ tessellations; others are frankly modular. One creation is a cluster of cranes that could have come from the Senbazuru Orikata. Glancing through this book in a very restricted field, I am reinforced in my view that Yoshihide Momotani is a greatly underestimated creative folder.

Tomoko Fuses's book is entirely in Japanese, and its title translates as "Newest Kusudamas". It was published in 1992 and the ISBN is 4-416-39209-5. Here also is a great variety of styles of kusudama, from fairly traditional clusters of paper flowers to quite simple modular polyhedra. Many of the polyhedra are far from simple and demonstrate Tomoko Fuse's characteristic way of ornamenting a basic polyhedron with geometrical or flowery decorations. The most impressive creations come between the two extremes and there is a particularly fine ornament that looks lie a cluster of daffodils.

Finally, small kits of origami and instructions for making kusudama used to be available from the Origami Source of origami USA. They may still be obtainable and would make a simple introduction to a different kingd of origami, which has considerable antiquity behind it.

I have the impression that kusudama hve been neglected in the West. Not every folder is interested in complex and taxing forms of origami and for those who are more attracted to a more decorative kind of origami. kusudama may be attractive. Even for lovers of modular folding and more complex origami kusudama can still offer challenges. I for one am grateful that Myriam ands Louise asked about the subject.

Now for other things! Our British petrol blockade seems to be over, so there should be no obstacles to getting to York tomorrow for the autumn convention. I hope to see many of you there. I'm planning to give a talk about "Origami and Japanese Weddings", illustrated from my collection of original Japanese traditional folds. Don't miss it!


David Lister Grimsby, England.

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