What you'll find on Storybook Days

The Home page displays all my musings on life in Japan and a few other things (baseball and children's books are distinct possibilities). For highlights only: "A Day in the Life (edited)." "Tabemono (Food)" is exactly that. "Big in Japan" is my completely biased and oversimplified list of what is popular in Japan, and "Kimono Count" is a day-by-day record of the people I see in traditional dress. "Editor's Delight" catalogs the unintentionally amusing and apparently quite complicated world of Japanese-English translation. "Uncle Tucker" tracks our sightings of a certain cat following us around Japan.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Origami, Mommy!

It just wouldn't be a trip to Japan without at least one visit to an origami center.  The Nippon Origami Museum is located inside Narita airport, but it is certainly not the only place to see fantastic displays of origami.  Origami stores and decorative paper shops are found in just about every neighborhood, but if you want to experience the history of origami hands on, I highly recommend a trip to the International Origami Center in Tokyo.  (Their site is in Japanese, but here is a link to their U.S. associate:  Paper Connection

Run by Kazuo Kobayashi, who was born in Yushima, Tokyo in 1941, the International Origami Center (IOC) is a fourth generation business that was started in 1859 as Yushima no Kobayashi (Yushima's Kobayashi).  Mr. Kobayashi is now the director of the IOC and is the chief director of the International Origami Society, which is certified by the Japanese Cabinet Office.  According to the IOC's official English-language handout, Mr. Kobayashi "has made it his lifework to convey the 'Culture of Folding Paper' and the 'Culture of Japanese Paper' inside and outside of Japan."  A noble endeavor--let's take a look inside.  The lobby of the IOC serves as a gateway to the multi-storied center:

And lest you think origami is just for kids, take a look at this complicated paper sculpture based on a mythological Japanese creature:

On the second floor, you'll find a gallery with the latest exhibits.  When we visited, we saw an exhibit of the International Flags of Renzaru, which is explained here:

Examples are here:

The next exhibit is one that (once again) shows the Japanese people's love of cats and dogs, as well as their knack for an entertaining use of the English language:

Why not be happy with cats and dogs?  I give you what I like to think of as "Habitat for Humanity":

What is it, you ask?  An entire community where teeny tiny cats and teeny tiny dogs (and people) live together in monotone equality and mutually ensured happiness.  Need a closer look?  Of course you do!

But my favorite exhibit was the one of cards and postcards:

This is a rectangular folding card depicting a famous Kyoto scene of vermilion Tori (Shinto) gates.  

A trip up to the third floor takes you to the paper shop, where attentive salespeople will help you find just the right project.  There are origami sets for making creations like these, which are mounted on
special decorative boards so that you can hang them for display.
Tiny man

Fireflies (makes me think of Eric Carle)

Many of the creations are not what I would have thought of as origami at all.  This gorgeous gold design with peacocks is actually crepe paper, believe it or not.  I never thought of using crepe paper for anything other than my kids' birthday parties.  Clearly this is not something you can pick up at Parties Plus.  It is so delicate and beautiful--it really looks (and feels) like fabric:

I have no idea what to call these, but I think they are swell.  My Aunt Ro would love them:

There are kits for cityscapes:

This is a Tokyo scene with the new (1 month old) Tokyo Sky Tree tower as the focal point

Kits for nature:

Kits for cranes (I call these "birds in flight"):

And, of course, snakes and dragons.  Lots and lots of dragons:

You could buy paper in kits, paper by the piece, and a dizzying array of display boards and frames.  There were origami mobiles (above), too.  After much hand wringing, we made it out of the shop with one (small) dragon and one (small) boat (with a dragon on it).

Next we were off to the fourth floor, to see how the paper is created.  As we stepped into the elevator, we were greeted (in English) by Mr. Kobayashi himself.  He had just returned from Dubai, so I did not want to bother him by requesting a photo.  (But there's one on the Taro's Origami Studio website--shout out to Park Slope, Brooklyn.)  When we reached the fourth floor, Mr. Kobayashi exited to the right for his office, and we took a left into the studio where an artist was at work.  We were stopped in our tracks by a fascinating scene--rows and rows of black and red striped paper, hanging in front of the windows to dry:

They were delicate and beautiful, yet also intensely colored.  The artist explained he was going to use them to make goldfish.  "Koi," I asked.  "Iie (No)," he answered.  "Goldfish."  So, imagine red and black goldfish.

Many tools are used to make paper, including brushes, paints, and work tables:

While the black and red papers were drying for the goldfish, there was another gold project in the works: gold paper.  Real gold.  On real paper.  The finished product looks like this:

The paper making looks like this (and p.s. this was our favorite part of the trip):

We watched for awhile--mesmerized and unable to drag ourselves away.  Eventually, we left the artist to his work and headed back out into the grey Tokyo afternoon.  Thanks, Mr. Kobayashi.