The more I find out about the history of paper-folding, the less exclusively “Japanese” it seems to be. Europe clearly has a long and distinguished history of paper folding. So, I wonder, is our use of the word “origami” the correct thing to do? Certainly, Japan is steeped in paper-folding and the word has all proper the Eastern associations, but I can’t help but think we need to reassess the importance on non-Eastern folding history.

It’s not just a matter of historical context. When I tell students they are going to do “origami”, they rarely know what it is. “Paper folding” sounds much easier and less intimidating, perhaps. I’ve been surrounded by the “O” word for nearly 30 years, but I’m beginning to question if it is the best generic term for what I do.

What do you think?

3 Responses

  1. While I agree with you that there are many paper folding traditions around the world, “origami”, at least here in the USA, has a certain recognition and weight that “paper folding” doesn’t have.

    I both like and dislike that fact. On the one hand, using the name “origami” adds to a sense of exotic mystery that I think makes it a less accessible hobby because it mystifies it. On the other hand, it does help distinguish it as a hobby, and it gives an at least somewhat deserved nod to the important role Japan did have in the development of the craft and the art.

    I guess I just pick different battles. I worry more about fighting against the idea of “origami purity” than I do about what word we use for the activity. While I don’t begrudge anyone who wants to decide what limitations they want to put on their personal practice, it really irks me when people try to force their views on others and declare things to be origami or not based on their own… prejudice.

    This is probably turning in to a bit of a rant, but I have seen people claim that since “origami” means “paper folding” that any model that involves cutting in any way does not qualify, as if the definition is purely exclusionary, even through folding is the main shaping factor in a model. I have seen others argue that the crumpling technique isn’t origami because it doesn’t use exact, linear folds with defined reference points. And then there are the “square only” folks, etc. Even more irksome for me is when non-folders make these types of claims.

    1. purity – indeed! It almost smacks of “racial purity”. Essentially, it’s narrow-mindedness combined with proselytizing. I’ve just written a page for my “teaching origami” project about exactly this, covering glue, cutting and drwing 😉

      Thanks for your thoughtful reply…

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