If you are interested in the history of paper folding, there's no doubt that Akira Yoshizawa is a name to remember. While no single person can be credited with "inventing" origami, Akira Yoshizawa is widely recognized for his work in raising origami from a craft to a living art form. For this reason, he is often referred to as either the "grandmaster of origami" or the "father of origami."
Akira Yoshizawa was born on March 14, 1911. His parents were dairy farmers, but he moved to Tokyo when he was just 13 years old to take a job in a factory. When he was in his early 20s, he was promoted from his factory worker position to a job as a technical draftsman. As part of his duties, he was responsible for teaching new employees basic geometry. He decided to use origami, which he had learned as a child, as a teaching tool to make these lessons easier to understand.
In 1937, Akira Yoshizawa quit his factory job to practice origami on a full-time basis. He essentially lived in poverty for most of the next two decades, making a meager living by selling tsukudani on a door-to-door basis.
During World War II, Akira Yoshizawa served in the army medical corps in Hong Kong. He made origami models to cheer up the sick patients, but eventually fell ill himself and was sent back to Japan.
In 1951, a Japanese magazine asked Akira Yoshizawa to fold models of the 12 signs of the Japanese zodiac. This was a turning point in his career since the exposure led to several exhibitions of his work and the publication of 18 different origami books.
In 1954, Akira Yoshizawa founded the International Origami Centre in Tokyo. The Centre helps promote awareness of origami by arranging exhibitions, demonstrations, and instructional classes.
In 1956, Akira Yoshizawa married his wife Kiyo. She served as his manager and taught origami alongside him until his death.
Akira Yoshizawa's incredible origami skill afforded him many opportunities to travel around the world, which made it possible for him to serve as a goodwill ambassador for the Japanese government. In 1983, he was named to the Order of the Rising Sun. This is one of the highest honors for a citizen of Japan.
On March 14, 2005, Akira Yoshizawa died from complications of pneumonia. This was his 94th birthday.
On March 14, 2012, Google honored Akira Yoshizawa on what would have been his 101st birthday with an origami doodle on their homepage. The doodle was created by Dr. Robert J. Lang.
Origami Models and Exhibitions
Even though Akira Yoshizawa was a self-taught origami artist, his work was eventually exhibited in shows around the world. His origami appeared in exhibits at the Cooper Union in New York, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, and the Louvre.
Akira Yoshizawa estimated he created 50,000 different origami models over the course of his career. However, only a handful of these was ever diagrammed and published. Simple and elegant lines were the defining features of Akira Yoshizawa's origami models. He never used scissors, glue, or additional embellishments when creating his origami designs. His lumbering gorillas, flying dragons, and graceful cranes were sculptural art. His goal was to convey emotion and feeling–even if this didn't result in an entirely realistic representation of his subject.
The Wet-Folding Technique
Although Akira Yoshizawa pioneered many different origami techniques, wet-folding is one of his most significant contributions. This technique involves slightly dampening the paper before making a fold. Wet-folding allows the paper to be manipulated more easily, resulting in finished origami models that have a rounder and more sculpted look. The ability to create origami with a more realistic appearance was an important advancement in paper folding since it took models away from the realm of simple crafts and towards true artistic expression.
Wet-folding is most often used with thicker paper, however. Normal origami paper is very thin and thus prone to tearing when using the wet-folding technique.
Creation of the Yoshizawa-Randlett System
The Yoshizawa-Randlett system of notations is a standardized way of diagramming the steps involved in folding a particular origami model. In 1954, Akira Yoshizawa's Atarashi Origami Geijutsu (New Origami Art) used a diagramming system that included dotted and dashed lines to indicate mountain and valley folds, plus symbols such as the markings for “inflate” and “round.” This caught the attention of Samuel Randlett and Robert Harbin, who added a few additional symbols to develop the complete notation system that is still used by paper folders around the world today.
A great book of origami models by Akira Yoshikawa is a book called "Akira Yoshizawa, Japan's Greatest Origami Master", which features his origami models, drawings and also a view of his personal philosophy of origami by Yoshizawa's widow, Kiyo Yoshikawa.