Akira Yoshizawa: Origami

Origami, the traditional Japanese art of paper folding, stems from the Japanese verb oru  (to fold), and the noun kami (paper). Thought to have originated in the 6th century, origami artists make geometric folds and crease patterns to create representations of objects and animals.  Most Origami is created with Japanese washi, a strong paper,  preferably without gluing or cutting, and using only one piece of paper.

While Japan is recognized as the country that most fully developed the traditional art of origami, paper folding also took place independently in Spain,  Germany and other countries.

Considered to be the master, Akira Yoshizawa is credited with elevating origami into a serious form of figurative art. Born, in 1911, he was a factory worker in Tokyo until the mid-1930’s when he decided to pursue his art. Before WWII, Yoshizawa also studied for two years as a Buddhist priest, never entering a monastery, but remaining a devout Buddhist throughout his life.

For more than twenty years, Yoshizawa created his paper sculptures, earning a living by selling fish door to door.  In the 1950’s, Yoshizawa gained recognition after being commissioned by a Japanese magazine to fold the 12 signs of the Japanese zodiac. The feature led to exhibitions in Japan and Amsterdam.

Yoshizawa’s work is considered to be more sculptural art than folded paper. Known for his simple lines, inspired by the natural world, Yoshizawa folded animated birds, gorillas, dragons, fish, plants and flowers.  Yoshizawa is also known for his innovative folding techniques and for creating a system of origami instructions that are universally accessible.

Yoshizawa never sold any of his models and said that he considered them to be his children. He wrote 18 origami books that diagrammed a few hundred of his designs though it is estimated that he created more than 50,000 models.

Yoshizawa’s origami has been exhibited around the world and including the Cooper Union in New York, and the Louvre. In 1983, he received the Order of the Rising Sun, a national decoration awarded by the Japanese Government.  Yoshizawa died on March 14, 2005 in hospital in Ogikubo, from complications of pneumonia, on his 94th birthday.

Sources: NY Times, Wikipedia, TimesUK, Joseph Wu