14 November 2022 · Mazda Australia News
The Legend Of The Paper Crane
The ancient art of origami is associated with gifts, entertainment and even maths in education. The paper crane, however, is believed to have miraculous powers…
Words Alyssa Hirose
In Japan, the crane is a symbol of both longevity and fortune. Perhaps that’s why it’s one of the most popular origami creations. It’s also believed that the power of the paper crane goes beyond the simple aesthetic magic of transforming a flat square into the world’s most iconic origami bird. According to one Senbazuru legend, whoever folds one thousand paper cranes will be granted a wish.
Throughout Japan, the story of 12-year-old Sadako Sasaki perhaps best epitomises the Senbazuru legend. Having suffered radiation poisoning from the 1945 Hiroshima atomic bomb, Sadako set out to fold one thousand cranes, hoping to be granted her wish to recover. Her story resonated with the nation and paper cranes continues to be a symbol of recovery, messages of peace and hope across Japan. There’s even a building named ‘paper crane’ in Hiroshima.
Florida-based artist and teacher Kuniko Yamamoto has always been surrounded by the art of paper folding. “I grew up with origami everywhere in my house—my mother made origami boxes to hold clips, my grandma wrapped eggs neatly in origami, and my uncle did bar tricks with paper napkin origami,” she says.
Yamamoto grew up in Japan. She’s been practising paper folding professionally for two decades, but her roots in origami run much deeper—she first learned the art at the age of five. And, while crafting egg cups or tiny, tidy boxes out of paper are perhaps not a common sight around the world, paper cranes are recognised globally.
- Kuniko Yamamoto
“MY MOTHER MADE ORIGAMI BOXES TO HOLD CLIPS, MY GRANDMA WRAPPED EGGS NEATLY IN ORIGAMI, AND MY UNCLE DID BAR TRICKS WITH PAPER NAPKIN ORIGAMI.”
According to Toshi Aoyagi, a founding member of the Origami Society of Toronto, origami amateurs are always eager to master the ubiquitous crane—but it’s not quite suited for fresh folders. “I consider the crane a graduation piece, for the end of a beginner’s class,” explains Aoyagi. He’s taught origami to adults and children alike for many years, and points out how intimate a craft it is—learning the ins and outs of paper folding requires close, often hands-on instruction that’s individually tailored to the student. “Some say that Japanese people are just naturally good at folding, and I don’t think that’s true,” he says with a laugh.
Typically, origami is thought of as a very old art form, but both Yamamoto and Aoyagi point out that its origins are unknown. The Hiden Senbazuru Orikata (Secret to Folding One Thousand Cranes) is the first known book on origami and was published in 1797. “If that’s the oldest origami book, origami is not that ancient,” points out Aoyagi. Factors like the availability of paper and recreational time are important elements to consider when thinking about origami’s history: art takes resources and hours. Plus, of course, inspiration
Published in 1797, Hiden Senbazuru Orikata was the first book on origami art. Wikimedia Commons
Aoyagi considers the paper crane one of the most perfectly crafted objects. That’s because the centre of the crane—the “x” mark on the bird’s back—is the centre of the piece of paper. This becomes obvious when you unfold a crane: the crease pattern extends out from the middle, almost like a snowflake. “It’s such a powerful thing to have this kind of balance in design,” he says. “The amount of paper consumed here, in four different directions, is totally equal.” It’s this balance that allows the crane to be properly hung using just a single thread through its middle.
In fact, the basic-looking crane is a technical marvel, which also makes it an effective teaching tool. Yamamoto says that through origami, “students learn maths, fractions, basic geometry and the number system.” She adds that the craft can foster language arts skills, too, as children learn how to properly communicate each step. “I’m still searching for better ways to connect origami with the school curriculum for creative learning—it’s been a great journey,” she shares. The Children’s Peace Monument in Hiroshima remains covered with bright paper cranes to this day, and cranes are still folded to encourage recovery from sickness (plus as fan gifts for celebrities and athletes, Aoyagi notes), so the magic continues.