Exploring Origami -- Global Learning for Kids: Japan

Congratulations to Lauren L. on winning the Spring Into Science Giveaway!
Origami is something I have enjoyed for a long time and I have introduced it to Hazel many times: butterflies, various animals, exploring All About Japan. I have taken mathematics teacher courses on using origami in the classroom. It is especially great in geometry. Hazel has attempted origami a few times with me but she still struggles a bit with it. I think she needs to be a bit older to really get it, but for now we practice. 

History of Origami

Origami is the Japanese art of paper folding. Paper making was introduced to Japan by the Chinese in the beginning of the seventh century. The Japanese found a way to make a thin paper called washi. Washi was used for official religious record keeping and Buddhist writings. In Shinto religious ceremonies offerings for the gods were wrapped in washi paper as well as other things. Eventually people began to fold the paper into animals and decorations for the gifts. During the Muromachi period, it became the rule that gifts had to be adorned with decorations. Butterfly ornaments are often used in wedding ceremonies. (Source) Origami was originally called orikata, but it was changed to origami in 1880. Origami comes from two Japanese words: oru meaning to fold and kami meaning paper. (Source)

Each of the animals have special meaning to the Japanese. Cranes represent long-life, happiness, good luck and peace. (Source) A legend says that anyone who folds 1,000 cranes will have his or her heart's desire. The crane became the symbol of peace thanks to a young Japanese girl named Sadako Sasaki. Sadako was a two-years-old when the atomic bomb was dropped near her home in Hiroshima. By the time she was twelve she died of leukemia, due to the struggles of being exposed to the bomb. Hearing the legend she decided to fold 1,000 cranes to get rid of the leukemia. It is said that Sadako folded 644 before her death. Her family and friends finished the rest. She was buried with a wreath of 1,000 cranes. Her story reminded the world how awful war can be on everyone and the cranes have come to mean peace. (Source)

Books with Origami in Stories

To learn more about the customs and history of origami, we found some books at the library. Pictured above are the ones we have read.
  • Yoko's Paper Cranes by Rosemary Wells is a story about a young Japanese girl who loves spending time in the garden with her grandmother. Her grandmother loves to see the cranes in the garden pond in the warm weather. Her grandfather teaches her to fold paper cranes. Then her parents and she move to the United States leaving her grandparents in Japan. For her grandmother's birthday she sends her some paper cranes to remind her the real ones will return after the winter and she will as well.
  • Pink Paper Swan by Virginia Kroll is a beautiful multicultural story. It is about one young girl in the city becoming friends with an older Japanese woman who shares the secrets of origami with her. In the end bonsai is also introduced. 
  • Japanese Origami: Paper Magic by Ann Stalcup shares a bit about what origami is and the meanings of the animals as well as the story of Sadako. 
  • Kiri's Butterflies by Cathryn Falwell. We already shared this book previously. The butterfly is often the symbol of a young girl as she spread her wings and emerges into adulthood. Two butterflies is a symbol of marital happiness. (Source)
  • Fold Me a Poem by Kristine O'Connell George is a book of poems about the animals made with origami and the pictures include the specific origami animals. 
  • The Paper Crane by Molly Bang is the retelling of a Japanese folktale. Beautiful story and book.
  • Tree of Cranes by Allen Say is a Christmas story. A young Japanese boy and his mother prepare to celebrate their first Christmas. They make cranes to decorate the tree.

Kits and Papers We Used

This past birthday, Hazel received a wonderful gift from our friend at Tuttle Publishing. It was two origami books and kits and two packages of origami paper. We have been having fun practicing our origami with them! (I am providing links for these, but receive no compensation if you purchase them through them.)

My First Origami Kit




Turtles--Primarily a Sign of Longevity (source of meaning)

Girligami Kit



Kimono Patterns Large Origami Papers

Animal Patterns Large Origami Papers
Then Hazel wanted to make an origami jumping frog. We used Kids Web Japan for instructions.She loves making them jump by pushing on their back side. The frog is carried by travelers to ensure a safe return and is a symbol of good fortune. (Source)

Hazel has taken all of our origami animals and made habitats for them. Then she gave me and Steve each an invitation to take a trip around the world at home this weekend. She is setting up a zoo or something. Love her creativity! We have some more books to check out including ones that use origami in math and science. Stay tuned!!

This post if part of our Global Learning for Kids series. This month's country is Japan. If you have any crafts, books, recipes, lessons on or from Japan. Please share them here! Be sure to check out all the other great resources about Japan shared!