Evolving Culture of Origami

2019 Japan Cultural Envoy (long-term dispatch type)
MITANI Jun
Professor of University of Tsukuba
  • Countries visited:China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Bangladesh, India, Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam
  • Period of the activities:From October 27 to December 22, 2019

I was involved in the cultural exchange activities in eight countries in Asia through origami paper folding, one of the cultural traditions of Japan.
I have focused on opening up new areas of origami through the designing and making of origami pieces with curved surfaces. However, in the first place, I am a university professor in the area of computer science. Accordingly, my activities as a Japan Cultural Envoy have mainly involved lectures, workshops, and exhibitions of my origami works.

A photo of lecture. I explained the geometric conditions for creating a three-dimensional
object from a piece of paper at a university

In the lectures, I have discussed the history of origami, its application in the area of engineering, and its designing. In the universities, high schools, and art museums that I visited, many participants showed their interest in the new possibility of origami and asked many questions. In the workshops, they gained experience in making origami pieces with curved fold lines in addition to traditional pieces. It was the first time for almost all the participants to fold origami with curved lines, although they had known orizuru, or origami cranes. They enjoyed the session in a happy and friendly atmosphere.
When I started the above activities, however, I had a hard time wondering if it was OK for a person like me to accept the role of a Japan Cultural Envoy.

At the workshop, participants made folded paper cranes using Japanese paper and folded
a square piece of paper into a round shape

I felt that there were people who were more experienced, appropriate, and knowledgeable about origami than I was. However, after a while, I realized something that made me think it was good that I accepted the offer; that origami is a culture that is in the process of evolution.
Needless to say, a culture changes with time, but currently, origami is changing and evolving at a surprising speed. When the idea and technique of “designing origami” was developed in the 1980s, a complex, innovative, and totally different world of origami appeared, which spread instantly over the world with the expansion of the Internet. Now, origami communities have been built in various places in the world, competing with each other over their skills. Still, Japanese origami’s superiority is well acknowledged because of its high level and the fact that it is enjoyed by a wide range of people. Now, I think that it is meaningful to present to people new and unique origami pieces, created by making full use of mathematics and computers and being free from the conventional concept, as the examples of today’s Japanese origami.

Participants smile after a workshop (in Udon Thani Province, Thailand)

I have learned a lot and gained rare and valuable experience in this project. There are many things that I think I should have done differently, but I also have a sense of satisfaction that I did the work to the best of my ability. I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincere appreciation to everyone who supported my activities during the project.