Origami Heaven

A paperfolding paradise

The website of writer and paperfolding designer David Mitchell


Ocho and Mecho Butterflies
This page attempts to record what is known about the origin and history of the Japaanese traditional paperfolds known as ocho and mecho - male and female butterflies. Please contact me if you know any of this information is incorrect or if you have any other information that should be added. Thank you.

I have found it difficult to discover much definite information about this subject. I do not read Japanese so that my information is largely culled from sources in English.

There is a short poem by Iharu Saikaku 'Rosei-ga yume-no cho-wa orisue' in the 'Ittyuya Dokugin Onsenku" (4000 Haikus Recited Alone All Day and Night) which dates to 1680. This can be translated as 'The butterflies in a beggar's dream would be folded paper' and may be a reference to the ocho and mecho, although it is also conceivable that it refers to some other kind of paper butterfly of which we now know nothing.

The Metropolitan Museum in New York has in its collection a scrapbook album of tsutsumi, accession number 2013.248.1–.25, which appears to include ocho and mecho folds similar to those illustrated in the Kan no mado (see below), about which the Met says, 'According to the inscriptions, this set of models served as the initiation into the art of origata for Kikuchi Fujiwara no Takehide by an Ogasawara master, and is dated the third month of 1697.

Several pages in the 'Hoketsuki', a treatise on the folding of ceremonial wrappers in the tradition of the Ogasawara school of etiquette, by Ise Sadatake, published in 1764, show pictures of ocho and mecho, one of which is attached to the spout of a sake kettle.

Ocho and mecho designs in gold and silver are also featured in the design on a wedding ukichake (or outer robe) which is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum in New York and which can be dated to the late 18th–early 19th century during the Edo period (1615–1868). See https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/65607

The Mets commentary states, 'Wedding uchikake are decorated with auspicious motifs, such as the folded-paper butterflies depicted here in pairs, male and female, to represent the newly wedded couple. Folded-paper butterflies attached to thin strips of paper were also used to adorn presents and may be the origins of this pattern. “Butterfly” in Japanese is pronounced cho, which sounds like the word for “long” (?), so the motif also symbolizes a long and happy marriage.'

Drawings of ocho and mecho, in the style of the Ogasawara school of etiquette, also occur in the Kan No Mado, which was written in 1845.

In the edition of the Kan No Mado edited by Julia and Martin Brossman, published in 1961 by the Pinecone Press, the editors quote from an 1871 English translation of the 'Shorei Hikki' (Record of Ceremonies) by A B Mitford describing a ceremony in which sake is poured from two kettles, each of which is decorated with a paper butterfly, one in gold and one in silver, into another kettle. The editors describe this as a Shinto marriage ceremony, although I am not convinced that this is the case. (Wikipaedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shinto_wedding - states that 'The Shinto wedding is a modern invention. The first mention of a wedding in a Shinto manual was in 1872; weddings are not reported until the 1880s.' )