Kiyo Yoshizawa

I was flicking through some photos from the Masters Of Origami exhibition when I saw one of myself with Mrs Yoshizawa, taken during a flight in an old airliner owned by Red Bull. I’d just given her some issues of the BOS Yoshizawa commemorative magazine for which I’d prepared the cover. It brought back a vivid memory from just after the event had finished.

It was about 11am and I’d made my way to the airport for my trip home. I was sat in the departure lounge when I saw Mrs Yoshizawa and (I believe) her sister struggle in with their baggage. I helped as best I could and we sat for half an hour, folding together and conducting a very halting but equally friendly conversation. Their plane came before mine and I bade them farewell. For some time afterwards, I conjectured on her life after the loss of her husband.

They married in 1956 (a year before I was born!) and whilst I have no first hand knowledge, I can only assume that she lived somewhat in the shadow of her husband’s enormous talent, which would have shaped and defined both their lives. I doubt that she had ever been exposed to such public scrutiny before and in some ways, it had allowed her to blossom and reveal a little more of herself to the origami world. That she was prepared to sit and talk with a male gaijin, half her age, in an airport spoke volumes about her.

Following his death, she has led and sustained the work of the International Origami Society, as well as promoting the work of Yoshizawa sensei internationally. This year saw the 40th convention of the IOS and one hopes they will continue to promote and discuss the extraordinary legacy of Akira Yoshizawa.

For women (presumably) in their eighties to lead active lives is remarkable, but to travel the world in the pursuit of this work is even more so. To see these two tiny, frail women, taking a flight from Austria back to Japan, on their own, was both humbling and inspiring.