Folding origami is fun, engaging and constructive - to say nothing of its educational benefits. One must have discipline to precisely execute folds and creases; paper art such as origami appeals to those with a meticulous nature.

Even toddlers can make a paper plane or a paper boat (yes, they are also origami!) while being, for the most part, the complete opposite of careful and precise.

We do know of some fun origami for kids but the constructions we describe in this article might be a tad too complex for little ones. On the other hand, they may enjoy helping you make paper if you wanted to try your hand at that...

For the most part, origami animals demand precision in their creation; they involve a far more intricate construction and substantially more attention to detail.

Modular origami uses multiple sheets of paper to create one design. Attaining this level of skill at folding paper is and achievement for kids and adults!

Besides simple constructions with obvious meaning - such as an origami boat or ninja stars, the art of folding we call origami is full of representation – not just in the figures origami artists delight in creating but in the very methods and traditions embodied in the practice of creating.

For example, did you know that the Japanese Shoguns of Japan’s Edo Period tasked their junior men with hours of origami? In fact, it is generally thought that Japanese origami truly got its start during that time.

Back then, besides folding paper along a certain crease pattern, it was permitted to cut the paper to suit the model, a practice called kirigami. Today, the more elaborate paper sculptures allow for cutting the paper but, strictly speaking, origami is made only by folding.

So, as you get ready to fold square paper into your favourite origami designs, consider the fact that you are carrying on a long tradition in the art of paper folding.

That might be enough to fire your enthusiasm but before you pick up your first sheet of paper, there is just one question left that needs asking: what do all of those origami models mean?

That’s where Superprof comes in...

Tatsu, the Origami Dragon

Make an origami butterfly out of money
If you have any spare cash laying about, you could make money origami Image by jordandemuth from Pixabay

Dragons are powerful creatures in Asian folklore; the Japanese dragon incorporates elements from Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese dragons while still remaining its own beast.

Unlike the imagery of dragons in the west, Asian dragons have long, snake-like bodies and several limbs. They generally do not have wings or breathe fire.

The Japanese have no fewer than five dragons in their mythology but in origami, there is only one dragon: Tatsu.

You may fold it out of shiny foil paper to give the illusion of shimmering scales or a piece of solid green paper to reflect its swampy origins.

Did you know that just about every hobby and crafts store carries several types of Japanese paper? Still, no matter which paper you choose, your dragon will symbolize power, wisdom, mastery and success.

Whether you attach it to a gift or give it away unattached, you will convey to the recipient that they will enjoy good fortune and strength.

You can learn how to fold your dragon in our companion article.

What Are the Types of Origami?

To the uninitiated, origami is all about folding paper – shiny paper, colourful paper, even plain paper, into shapes mostly resembling animals.

To an increasingly appreciative band of origami art practitioners and audiences, there is an astounding number of types of origami, each more complex and demanding in their execution than the last.

Avid origami enthusiasts count up to 80 different types of origami, broadly broken into four categories:

  • Classical
  • Neo-Classical
  • Modern
  • Hyper-Modern

Those designations are chronological, denoting roughly when new styles of origami emerged. The more discerning origami artist avers that those are merely epochs, not categories or types of origami.

The more accurate classification of origami types includes labels such as:

  • Action origami, which has moveable parts
  • Modular origami: made with several sheets of paper
  • Business card origami; it’s description is in its name
  • Dollar bill origami – not just limited to American currency
  • Candy wrapper origami: made, obviously, from sweets wrappings
  • Wet folding origami: working the paper while wet makes the constructions more durable
  • Functional origami is origami you can use, anything from placemats to quilts.

You can fold origami out of fabric and toilet paper, you can create origami art out of strips of paper rather than whole sheets and you can use scissors to precisely snip the portions of paper that do not fit into your design – a type of origami called kirigami.

You might particularly enjoy seasonal origami – a type of origami that results in designs for a specific seasonal event such as Christmas and New Year celebrations, special event origami for weddings, birthdays and promotions, or themed origami: trees and flowers to depict a 3D nature scene, for example.

You might be unconvinced about the potential role origami could play in your life – after all, how much can there be to folding paper, right?

If you are that sceptic, it might pay for you to find out just how much there is to origami and how many different types of origami you could master on your way to becoming the artist you want to be.

Chocho: the Origami Butterfly

Two butterflies dancing around each other is a sign of marital bliss; that is why paper butterflies usually feature at Japanese weddings.

Now, for a disclaimer: in spite of the Japanese words commonly used to describe paper crafts, this art form is not exclusively Japanese.

Whereas butterflies generally symbolise a soul set free, here, in the UK, we have rather more ominous superstitions about butterflies.

Some areas of our country hold that butterflies contain the souls of dead children, while in other places, superstition dictates that one must kill the first butterfly s/he sees or have bad luck throughout the year.

Should that butterfly be yellow, woe to the whole family! It means everyone will be plagued with illness.

Scotland and Ireland are mercifully kinder to these delicate flyers: they believe that butterflies near the grave of a loved one symbolize their dear departed one has found their place in heaven.

The paper butterfly has a decidedly different meaning than any of the above. It represents the hopes and dreams of young girls as they blossom into beautiful young women.

That being the case, you may choose delicately-coloured origami paper to make your first mountain fold and reverse fold... but, please: no yellow!

Do you need folding instructions? There are plenty of step by step instructions on YouTube...

Kaeru, the Origami Frog

We tend to think of frogs as slimy croakers fit for nothing but eating bugs. However, in Japan, frogs have a completely different meaning.

It is quite common in Japan for people to keep a small frog figure in their coin purse; it means that money will be wisely spent and soon will return.

So, if you wish to make a tiny frog to tuck into your wallet, you will have to practise your folding technique on very small origami paper.

On the other hand, if you have kids heading off into the world, gifting them a brightly-coloured origami frog will serve to remind them that they should return home to visit, occasionally.

You could pass such frogs to other dear ones who live far away, too.

Unlike quilling, which is an involved process that calls for a variety of materials, you only need a square piece of paper - and of course, you have to know how to make an origami frog!

Interested in Japanese classes London? Check Superprof now!

A Word on Kawaii

Although origami is not only an ancient Japanese art, invariably, everything origami is attributed to Japan. As such, you should be aware of another aspect of Japanese culture: they love anything cute!

Whimsy permeates virtually every aspect of Japanese society, from their ultra-popular anime to their clothing.

Anything – a drawing or a person that is shy, vulnerable, childlike and charming is adored in Japan; such is the essence of kawaii.

For that reason, most origami paper is double-sided, and sometimes shows fantastic designs - a tessellation or bokashi. It may be shiny and feel delicate to the touch, belying its resilience... another aspect of the kawaii culture of Japan.

Now that you know about the joy of cute, you may understand why the cat is another popular origami animal.

3D origami Pikachus are cute!
These 3D origami pikachu creatures prove the Japanese obsession with cute! Souce: Pixabay Credit: Level17

What Is the Purpose of Origami?

In asking what the purpose of origami is, one might as well ask what the purpose of art in general is.

Like every other form of art, origami lends our world a new dimension of aesthetic beauty.

Even if that were the sole purpose of origami, beautifying our environment would surely be enough to credit its existence but, unlike other art forms, origami serves a multitude of purposes.

Classical Origami

In its earliest days, around the 6th Century CE, origami was strictly for religious purposes such as weddings and other ceremonies. The price of paper was quite high then and the quality was not that great, meaning that the practice of origami was limited to the most officious of acts.

Not too long after paper became more accessible and affordable, it was common to gift warriors packages decorated with a noshi made of folded strips of paper. These good luck charms soon became ubiquitous, leading the exercise of origami to become a part of Samurai soldiers’ military training.

Novice soldiers were tasked to work paper designs for hours on end to develop their patience and skill with work of a meticulous nature.

Neo-Classical Origami

Historians aver that Japan's Edo period was defined by peace and prosperity. Paper had become downright cheap and origami had become as much a socio-cultural phenomenon as a military exercise.

Entire books were written on how to fold and cut origami, the most famous one titled Sembazuru Orikata was compiled by Akisato Rito. A later tome, put together by Adachi Kazuyuki, gave a more comprehensive work on paper folding.

Modern Origami

This era of origami art came about around the 1950s, when patterns emerged on how to fold origami to yield consistent designs.

By comparison, throughout this art’s long history, instructions were mostly passed down orally.

Akira Yoshizawa is widely considered the father of modern origami. He developed folding patterns and created a set of universal symbols – where folds should be and where inversions would benefit design; he further formed local and international organisations to promote origami art.

Hyper-Modern Origami

Today, mathematicians and architects use origami to further their theories, models and designs. Origami puzzles are en vogue just now; part entertainment and part brain-teaser. Some artists even build optical illusions of origami.

And, origami is a popular form of expression in art, with creators such as Jean-Claude Correia and Paul Jackson wowing the art world with their designs.

The Purpose of Origami

This quick look at origami’s long history speaks to the purpose of origami, at least in part: practising origami teaches discipline and increases focus, promotes culture and provides a creative outlet for millions of practitioners of this art.

Beyond these aspects of origami lie other purposes.

Origami is a great therapy for patients recovering from a stroke or who suffer from stress-related diseases such as high blood pressure and anxiety. It also promotes cognitive abilities in everyone from school-aged children to seniors battling dementia.

Origami provides a means of creative expression that, in some ways, requires more discipline and focus than traditional visual art.

For instance, a painter may paint over an erroneous brush stroke or poorly-mixed colour but an origami artist’s work would suffer – would lose its aesthetic power from being mistakenly creased.

Finally: all of those designs, from anatomical components like hearts and hip joints to a mock-up of the solar system complete with stars… you guessed it, all started with paper.

Could there be any doubt as to the purpose of origami? It’s simply everywhere! One might interpret that to mean origami is every man-made thing’s genesis… and that leaves out the art component altogether.

Neko, the Origami Cat

So enraptured with felines is Japan that they celebrate National Cat Day each year on February 22... makes one wonder if they also celebrate International Cat Day, which is feted on the 8th of August.

As the Japanese people have dedicated an entire day to the glory of cats, it stands to reason that cats are a popular origami creation.

We love our cats as well, so learning how to make origami cats may become our national pastime!

Cats are seen as mysterious and elusive, independent and wise. Cats are strong and self-assured; they never ask anyone for anything. They are also rapacious hunters all wrapped up in a coating of silky fur.

If you need ideas for easy origami – maybe to get the kids settled down on a rainy day, you could hardly do better than a cat: the folding technique is simple and it does not take a lot of time to make.

Once you get good at making cats, you can incorporate tessellations into your designs to give them some depth! 

Hakucho, the Origami Swan

In many cultures, swans represent majesty and tranquillity, loyalty and strength. Because swans mate for life, they also represent monogamy and fidelity.

As a possible symbol, they don’t have any special meaning in Japanese culture, but then again, we’ve already determined that origami is not only a Japanese art.

As origami projects go, swans are easy to fold and, because they can be freestanding, you might use them to decorate a picnic table or liven up a birthday party.

It all starts with a diagonal fold and, 13 steps later, you are ready to decorate your swan... or leave its features up to the imagination.

How about trying your hand at napkin folding? Before paper folding became popular in Europe, people would enjoy folding their napkin into various configurations, the swan being among the most popular designs.

Naturally, you cannot fold a napkin the same manner as folding paper; unless it is starched, cloth simply won’t hold a crease. That is why it is best to make your swans (and other designs) out of coloured paper.

This simple origami is a great way to get started practising paper craft.

Did you know that the Lewis Ginter botanical garden in the US has an ‘origami in the park’ programme? Visitors there are treated to an assortment of paper sculpture installations, including swans.

Wouldn’t it be great if our gardens also had such a display?

One thousand cranes brings a wish for peace
Would you fold a thousand cranes to get your wish for peace? Image by 1278956 from Pixabay

Tsuru, the Origami Crane

In Japan, the crane is the bird of peace, majesty, long life and fidelity – maybe that is why, for them, the swan pales in comparison as a symbol.

Origami cranes just might be the most renown origami bird; indeed, of all the origami figures to learn to fold, this one has the most meaning.

Japanese tradition has it that, if one folds 1,000 paper cranes, what is wished for will come to pass.

So it was that a young girl named Sadako, stricken with cancer in the aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing, endeavoured to fold origami birds, as many as needed to cheat death.

Realising that her hopes were in vain, she nevertheless continued to fold each paper crane, this time with a wish for peace and hope. So the symbolism of the origami crane changed, from one of personal hope to one of global yearning.

Learn of other reasons why origami is so important in Japanese culture...

If you aim to learn origami folding, a good figure to aim for is the crane - mastering it would mean you have attained an intermediate level of folding skill.

We recommend Washi paper for folding cranes; that brand is the top of the line, meaning your cranes will turn out beautifully. Once you've mastered how to fold this flapping bird, you could try your hand with the dragonfly or cicada, a pinwheel or even an origami box.

What about origami flowers?

You could start very simply, making an origami flower with just four petals and progress to an origami rose.

Who knows? You may even create a kusudama – an origami model made up of origami flowers, sewn or glued together to make a ball.

It will certainly put your childhood fortune teller or paper airplane to shame...

What Are the Benefits of Origami?

It might be hard to believe that the simple act of folding paper could bring practitioners of origami art such a wealth of benefits but studies show that this ancient ritual does indeed offer substantial advantages.

How You Can Benefit Physically from Practising Origami

Most of us are hardly aware of how often we rely on hand-eye coordination; mostly, this skill is mentioned in reference to throwing darts or a ball and, in today’s video culture, playing games.

Less often thought about hand-eye acts include cooking – chopping, stirring and pouring, writing and even dressing oneself. Imagine buttoning your shirt without being able to line your hands up with the buttons and buttonholes!

Hand-eye coordination is just one part of a spectrum of capability that humans possess.

Most everyone is born with the capacity for spatial awareness and we develop and hone it throughout our lives. Virtually everything we do, from driving a car to walking down the street involves spatial awareness.

Spatial awareness is the awareness of objects and your position among them but spatial awareness is not limited to locating yourself within your environment.

For instance, spatial reasoning – the ability to visualise objects in 3D is vital to understanding geometry and number order.

How does origami help develop and maintain spatial awareness?

For one, it is an excellent way to refine hand-eye coordination skills as well as sequencing skills. After all, what is origami but a series of sequential folds in paper? Also, you have to visualise what your folded paper will turn into; score a point for spatial reasoning development!

If you’re one of the millions that live with left-right discrimination, if you have trouble reading a map or have difficulty pinpointing where a noise or smell is coming from, honing spatial awareness skills could help you.

Origami’s Many Mental Health Benefits

The act of sitting quietly, breathing regularly and focusing exclusively on the task at hand puts the body in a state akin to meditation: blood pressure lowers, oxygen intake and usage improve and one’s overall physical condition becomes less tense.

If, for whatever reason, you’ve never quite gotten on board with meditation, perhaps creating art out of folded paper could do for you what meditation does for others.

However, you should not mistake origami for passively sitting. There is substantial mental work going on as you execute precise folds and inversions, among them the engagement of both sides of the brain as you use both hands to manipulate paper.

The balance your brain experiences as it directs the execution of functions necessary to create origami, along with the absence of both internal and external ‘noise’ – everything from your thoughts to ambient sounds leads to a calmer, more centred… more balanced you.

Educational Benefits of Origami

As we’ve demonstrated, origami benefits are ample for young and old but how can it positively impact your child’s education?

We already mentioned spatial awareness and how it can help your child understand geometry and the order of numbers but the list of math skills origami boosts goes on.

Students can better understand concepts like ratios, proportions and fractions and solving mathematical word problems become much easier – which means that critical thinking skills also improve with origami practice.

And there are more pluses to be had.

Fine motor skills such as handwriting and precision in using one’s hands are also positively impacted by origami, along with memory development, focus and attention to detail.

Those are all qualities every parent wants their kids to cultivate!

Now learn more about the history of this fascinating and ancient art.

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