Origami: Discover a love of paper folding


One peace crane deserves another.

Do you ever find yourself with extra time on your hands between classes at work? Looking for new activities to test drive in your E.S.S. Club or advanced English class? Origami could be just the ticket. Mie-ken JET Joanna Tocher provides a little inspiration to get us started.

Story and Photos By Joanna Tocher

I was sitting around feeling a little restless one day when I decided it might be a good idea to take up a hobby. Since it needed to be desk-based, and seeing as how I happened to have a large stack of Hello Kitty Post-it notes on my desk, I decided on origami. Paper folding is actually a kind of long-lost pastime of mine. I used to fold my bus tickets into cranes on the way to school when I was a teenager, and I really like the idea of turning otherwise useless little scraps of paper into intricate flowers or birds or animals. So I sat down and tried to make a crane. It seems I’d forgotten one key step because I couldn’t quite get the desired result. A quick search on the Internet and I’d found dozens of websites demonstrating how to make them, some complete with detailed diagrams and even videos. Twenty minutes later I’d turned about 15 sheets of Hello Kitty paper into cranes and flapping birds. I then tried out some new shapes: a cat, a fox and a neatly folded envelope.

Of course, you don’t have to settle for whatever paper you happen to have lying around; this is Japan, after all, and origami paper is not exactly hard to come by. Craft shops usually carry a wide variety of paper, some of it very beautiful and at times, quite expensive. If you’re working on a special project like a mobile it’s worth buying some nice paper from a stationary or craft shop, but 100-yen shops usually have a pretty good selection. They have the traditional patterned paper but also some crazier styles like hologram paper, silver and gold and, my personal favourite, Miffy paper.

Considering where I currently live, it’s actually quite fitting that I should develop an interest in origami. Kuwana was the home of Rokoan Gido, a Buddhist Priest and creator of the Rokoan Tsunagiori style of origami, which involves creating several cranes from a single sheet of origami paper. His book, Zenbazuru Orikata (How to Fold a Thousand Cranes), was published in 1797. Several examples of this style of origami can be found on display in the architect Joseph Condor’s house, Rokkaen, one of Kuwana’s most important cultural landmarks. The double crane is featured all over Kuwana on manhole covers, plaques and as a statue.

Now I love making cranes, but so far I’ve failed to make even a double crane let alone a thousand cranes from a single sheet of paper! However, as I was struggling for the fifteenth time to make two cranes attached by the beak, I suddenly remembered the real reason I’d gotten into origami in the first place: the movie Blade Runner. In case you haven’t seen it, in the film a character named Gaff has a habit of folding tiny origami figures while he speaks and leaving them behind as little markers. At one point he leaves behind a folded unicorn, loaded with possible symbolic meaning. Oh yes, I had wanted to make an origami unicorn ever since. It couldn’t be that hard right? I’m afraid to say it is. I found a couple of websites with incredibly tricky instructions detailing how to fold a unicorn, and worse, it seemed you had to create it in two parts. Part of what appeals to me about origami is that all you need is a single piece of paper and you can make pretty things wherever you are with no extra tools. I’m not too keen on models involving glue or cutting. This one however, was special.

I’ll cut to the chase, I failed. I can’t get past step twelve in the diagram displayed at BladeRunnerUnicorn.com.

It doesn’t matter though. My failure aside, this article is really intended to inspire, not to dissuade! So I wholeheartedly recommend giving origami a go. It’s very relaxing once you know how to do it and there’s something soothing about folding large quantities of elegant-looking cranes. You can also use your models to give a nice personal touch to letters, cards or even simple memos! Origami classes are sometimes offered at local libraries or community centres. Unluckily for me, my local library seems to have discontinued its classes but I’m on the hunt for an alternative. Have a look and see what’s on offer or just do your own thing!



Large collection of diagrams ranked according to difficulty level

Links to various diagrams and videos

Various instructional videos

Origami unicorn diagrams


  1. Awesome article. I love origami! It’s a great conversation starter at school, too, because teachers are always looking over my shoulder to see what I’m making (and a couple of them even like to pull up chairs and try to make what I’m making!) In addition to a million different kinds of paper, 100 yen shops also sell books of designed paper (with instructions) for making specific animals, people, flowers, etc. Elementary schools usually have a nice stock of solid colors, too, if you can get away with sneaking a few pieces for your own use.

  2. Origami: Discover a love of paper folding…

    Do you ever find yourself with extra time on your hands between classes at work? Looking for new activities to test drive in your E.S.S. Club or advanced English class? Origami could be just the ticke……

  3. Thanks Courtney! I don’t teach elementary unfortunately, no paper sneaking for me! Yeah, I’ve bought a couple of those books at 100 yen shops, they’re pretty good. Oh, about 2 days after this article went up, a friend of mine made a unicorn and posted a photo of it on my facebook page! Aaaah, I have to try harder!!

  4. I am totally going to teach a classroom full of American elementary school kids how to fold paper cranes and paper boxes. Its a great activity for kids who can’t sit still or need to be playing with something.

    So many cranes….

  5. I’ve used origami as a lesson for my high school seniors. We practice some basic vocabulary and I give them a sheet illustrating the vocabulary in pictures, so they have a reference. Then they practice making the origami in pairs. One person says the instructions one step at a time, and the other has to listen and make the origami. Even though the origami was very simple, it was challenging — but the students really loved it.

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