Origami Heaven

A paperfolding paradise

The website of writer and paperfolding designer David Mitchell


The Gondola / The Chinese Junk / The Takarabune
This page attempts to record what is known about the origin and history of the origami designs known in the West as the Chinese Junk and the Gondola, and in Japan as the Takarabune (Treasure Ship). 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 use the name 'Takarabune' for any Japanese version of the design which predates, or is clearly different from, the European version.

I use the name 'Chinese Junk' for the standard European version, whether it has two blunt ends, one end blunt and one sharp, or two sharp ends, that is developed from a blintzed windmill base.

I use the name 'Gondola' to mean the simpler variant of the Chinese Junk, which lacks sails, and therefore caannot be varied to have blunt or sharp ends, that is developed from a standard windmill base.


The Chinese Junk design appears in various versions in different places with either blunt or pointed ends. In his article 'Is the Junk Chinese?', now available as part of the Lister List on the British Origami Society website, David Lister states that in Japan the Chinese Junk design is known as the tenmsen (cargo boat) or treasure ship (takara-bune) and has pointed ends (whereas most of the European versions of the design have blunt ends). It also occurs with one blunt and one pointed end. The significance of these differences is not completely clear although Koshiro Hatori, writing in an article entitled 'History of Origami in the East and West before Interfusion', which can be found in the proceedings of 'Origami 5: Fifth International Meeting of Origami Science, Mathematics and Education' says, 'This difference is, in my opinion, so critical that I am sure the Chinese Junk and takara-bune developed independently on opposite sides of the world.' I am not sure that the evidence is sufficient to support this conclusion.

In this connection it is worth noting that, according to Robin D Gill, writing in his book 'Octopussy: Dry Kidney and Blue Spots' published by Paraverse Press in 2007, which is a treatise on Senryu poetry, the word takarabune can be used as a euphemism for female genitalia.


A distinctive characteristic of all versions of the design is the final 'pull-out' move that turns a flat paperfold into a three-dimensional boat. On the basis of this move, but of no other evidence, in his book 'Complete Origami', Eric Kenneway makes a connection between the Chinese Junk and Chinese funerary paperfolds (otherwise known as Yuan Bao) and concludes that 'its similarity to a Chinese ceremonial fold places it firmly in the Chinese tradition.' If this is true then the Chinese Junk is not originally a boat at all.


In Japan


'Origami from the Classics' by Satoshi Takagi, published in 1993, shows a drawing of a kimono decorated with takarabune which dates from 1704. The central portion of the design seems to be similar to the Chinese Junk but the ends seem dissimilar. I do not know how this design can be folded.



Takarabune in a print by Kunisada Utigawa dateable to between 1830-42 from 'Origami from the Classics' by Satoshi Takagi, published in 1993. (Information from Juan Gimeno)



A picture of a Takarabune design appeared in 'Kindergarten Shoho' (Preliminary Kindergarten) by Iijima Hanjuro, which was copyrighted on October 4th Meiji 17 (1884) and published by Fukuda Senzo in August of Meiji 18 (1885).


In Western Europe / USA

It is perhaps worth noting that a real chinese junk, the Keying, had sailed from Hong Kong in December 1846 and arrived in London, via New York, Boston and Jersey in March 1848, where she proved to be a considerable tourist attraction, so that many people in Europe and America would have known what a real chinese junk was, and looked like, at this time.


Almost all the images of Chinese Junks found in Western Europe / USA sources show a variation of the design in which both ends are blunt. The only exceptions to this are the images from the Dutch picture book "Hanenpoot", dated to around 1806 (see immediately below) and from the 1883 Sicilian book 'Giuochi Fanciulleschi Siciliani' by Giuseppe Pitri both of which show a variation of the design in which one end is blunt and the other pointed.



The earliest known drawing of the design in Europe occurs in the Dutch picture book "Hanenpoot" which Willem Bilderchijk wrote and illustrated for his young son Julius Willem in around 1806. In the caption accompanying this drawing the design is referred to as a paper boat rather than the Chinese Junk and it is likely that the name Chinese Junk had not attached itself to the design at this stage. On his website 'Bits of Smith', John Smith gives the reference for this discovery as Papiervouwen, De geschiedenis van een cultuur, }Elsje van der Ploeg published by Uitgeverij Helmond bv, Tilburg. July 1990, ISBN 9025293573



The book 'Manual Pratique des Jardins d'Enfants' edited by J-F Jacobs, which was written in French and published in Brussels and Paris in 1859 contains two lists of designs, but no illustrations of them, making identification of some designs in the list problematical. Among the designs listed are:

From list 1:

22. La gondole. Based on the evidence of its position in the sequence of designs, this can be identified as the Gondola developed from the windmill base. As far as I know this is the first appearance of the Gondola design in the historical record.

23. La gondole avec des bancs (the gondola with benches). If I am right about the designs in the sequence leading up to this point then this item in the list appears to be an error ... since there are no flaps to pull out to change the form to add benches to the design.

From list 2:

19. La gondole simple ie the Chinese Junk without the sails raised.

20. La gondole avec roues. This is presumably a variation of the Chinese Junk, although at present it cannot be identified.

21. La gondole à voiles. The Chinese Junk itself.

22. La gondole fermée. This is presumably another variation of the Chinese Junk, although at present it also cannot be identified.



The Chinese Junk appears as 'De sloep of gondel, het wiegje' (The sloop or gondola, the crib) in 'De Kleine Papierwerkers 1: Wat men van een stukje papier al maken kan: Het vouwen' (The Small Paperwork 1: What one can make from a piece of paper: Folding) by Elise Van Calcar, which was published by K H Schadd in Amsterdam in 1863.



There is reference to a paper boat (galiote) in 'La Peau de Tigre' by Theophile Gautier, published by Michel Levy Freres in Paris in 1866. (Information from Juan Gimeno.)

In the original French:

'Je compris alors l’énormité de ma faute ; je tombai à genoux et je baisai la poussière des bottes magistrales ; je répandis un sac de cendre sur ma tête, et par la sincérité de mon repentir, ayant obtenu le pardon du grand homme, j’envoyai au Salon une peinture à l’eau d’œeuf représentant une Madone lilas tendre et un Enfant Jésus faisant une galiote en papier.'

In English:

'I then understood the enormity of my fault; I fell on my knees and kissed the dust of the majestic boots; I spread a sack of ash on my head, and by the sincerity of my repentance, having obtained the forgiveness of the great man, I sent to the Salon a painting in egg tempera representing a tender lilac Madonna and a baby Jesus making a paper boat.'

In view of the use of the word 'galiote' to refer to the Chinese Junk by Victor Hugo (see below) it seems probable, though not completely certain, that this mention of a paper boat is a reference to the Chinese Junk design.



Victor Hugo's story 'L'Homme que rit' ('The Man Who Laughs'), published in 1869, contains the words:

'Le bâtiment amarré au bout de l'estacade était une de ces panses de Hollande à double tillac rasé, l'un à l'avant, l'autre l'arrière, ayant, à la mode japonaise, entre les deux tillacs, un compartiment profond à ciel ouvert où l'on descendait par une échelle droite et qu'on emplissait de tous les colis de la cargaison. Cela faisait deux gaillards, l'un à la proue, l'autre à la poupe, comme à nos vieilles pataches de rivière, avec un creux au milieu. Le chargement lestait ce creux. Les galiotes de papier que font les enfants ont à peu près cette forme.'

which translate to English as:

'The ship moored to the wharf was a Dutch vessel, of the Japanese build, with two decks, fore and aft, and between them an open hold, reached by an upright ladder, in which the cargo was laden. There was thus a forecastle and an afterdeck, as in our old river boats, and a space between them ballasted by the freight. The paper boats made by children are of a somewhat similar shape.'

which is a clear reference to the Chinese Junk design.



As far as I know instructions for making the Chinese Junk first appear, as the 'Paper Chinese Junk' in 'The Popular Recreator', which was published by Cassell and Co in London in 1873. The author of the article, whose name is not given in the book and is not known to us, states 'This used to be a favourite paper toy with us at school, but I never saw an account of it in any book that I can call to mind.'


In 'Exercices et Travaux pour les Enfants Selon la Méthode et les Procédés de Pestalozzi et de Froebel' by Fanny and Charles Delon, which was published by Librairie Hachette in Paris in 1873, there is a list of designs which includes 'La barque a voiles' (the boat with sails) and 'La gondole' (the gondola). These are quite possibly references to the Chinese Junk and the Gondola but there are no illustrations to confirm the identifications.



The Chinese Junk also appears in 'Des Kindes Erste Beschaftigungsbuch' by E Barth and W Niederley, which was first published in Bielefeld and Leipzig, and the foreword of which is dated October 1876.



Both the Gondola and the Chinese Junk appear in 'The Kindergarten Principle' by Mary J Lyschinska, which was published in London in 1880 by Wm Isbister Ltd. The Gondola is called 'The Boat' and the Chinese Junk just 'Boat'.


Diagrams for the Chinese Junk, under the title 'La Jongue Chinoise', appear in 'Un million de jeux et de plaisirs' by T de Moulidars, which was first published in 1880 and subsequently republished under the title 'Grande encyclopédie méthodique, universelle, illustrée, des jeux et des divertissements de l'esprit et du corps'.This is the first occasion I know of where the name 'Chinese Junk' is used.

In his article cited above David Lister states that Gershon Legman's Bibliography of Paper Folding (1952), cites T. de Moulidars' "L Grande Encyclopedie des Jeux", published in 1888 (but previously published in 1880 as "Un million de jeux et de plaisirs") as the earliest European source for the Chinese Junk. This statement is clearly no longer true.



The same set of diagrams appears again in 'Cassell's Book of Indoor Amusements, Card Games and Fireside Fun', which was published by Cassell and Co in London in 1881.



The Gondola appears, under the name of 'The Chinese Junk' in part two of 'The Kindergarten Guide' by Maria Kraus Boelte and John Kraus, which was probably first published by E. Steiger and Company in New York in 1882.

The design that we now call the Chinese Junk also appears in the same book under the title of 'The Gondola'.



'Giuochi Fanciulleschi Siciliani' by Giuseppe Pitri, which was published by Luigi Pedone Lauriel in Palermo in 1883, contains a drawing of the Chinese Junk under the name 'La Varca, la barca'. Very unusually, this drawing shows a version of the Chinese Junk in which one end is blunt and the other pointed.



The Chinese Junk design also occurs in 'Jeux et Jouet du Jeune Age' by Gaston Tissandier, which was published by G Masson in Paris in 1884.



The Boy's Own Paper no 389 of 26th June 1886 contained an article entitled 'A Paper Bird and a Paper Boat' which gave instructions for folding the Chinese Junk (not named but described as 'one of the best of the paper boats') and the Flapping Bird.



Diagrams for the Chinese Junk appeared in the September 1887 issue of the American children's magazine St Nicholas under the title of 'The First Paper Canoe'. The writer, identified only as H. E., states that he learned the design in England as a child.

In the December issue of the same year this reader's letter appeared in the Letterbox column:



On his website 'Bits of Smith', John Smith notes that in the The Magic of Lewis Carroll, Nelson, 1973, the editor John Fisher, quotes a passage from Lewis Carroll's diaries which reads. "We were playing on the fort at Margate, and a gentleman on a seat near asked us if we could make a paper boat, with a seat at each end and a basket in the middle for fish." This sounds like a description of either the Chinese Junk or the Gondola. No date for this incident is given, however this clearly raises the possibility that the folded paper fishing boats referred to on several other occasions in Lewis Carroll's diaries might have been either Chinese Junks or Gondolas rather than, as I have always previously assumed, the much simpler paper boat design made from the newspaper hat. One of the earliest of these references is from June 1889 and reads, 'Once at luncheon I had the Duchess (of Albany) as neighbour and once at breakfast, and had several other chats with her, and found her very pleasant indeed. Princess Alice is a sweet little girl. Her little brother (the Duke of Albany) was entirely fascinating, a perfect little prince, and the picture of good-humour. On Sunday afternoon I had a pleasant half-hour with the children, telling them "Bruno's Picnic" and folding a fishing-boat for them.'


'La Nature' of 28th September 1889 contained an article headed 'Recreation Scientifiques' and subheaded 'La Grenouille Japonaise en Papier' (The Japanese Paper Frog) which includes the words (here in translation) 'In France, it is true, we also know the charming game of folding paper. The classic Cocotte, the box and the galiote etc., are popular here but we must agree that the Japanese have more ingenious models.' The galiote mentioned here is most probably the Chinese Junk.


Diagrams for the Chinese Junk also appear:


In the Boy's Own Paper issue 655 of 1st August 1891, as the 'Chinese Junk'.



In 'L'Annee Preparatoire de Travail Manuel' by M P Martin, which was published by Armand Collin & Cie in Paris in 1893.


As 'El barco' in 'Cuestiones de Pedagogía Práctica: Medios de Instruir' by D Vicente Castro Legua, which was published by Libreria de la Viuda de la Hernando y Ca in Madrid in 1893.



In 'Die Frobelschen Beschaftigungen: Das Falten' by Marie Muller-Wunderlich, which was published by Friedrich Brandstetter in Leipzig in 1900.



In 'Guia Practica del Trabajo Manual Educativo' by Ezequiel Solana, which was published by Editorial Magisterio Español in Madrid in 1904, under the title of 'Gondola'.



As 'Barco griego' (Greek ship) in an article titled 'El trabajo manual escolar' by Vicente Casto Legua in the January 1907 issue of the Spanish magazine 'La Escuela Moderna' which was published in Madrid by Los Sucesores de Hernando.



In the last ever issue of the Catalan satirical magazine 'La Campana Catalana', published in Barcelona on 29th April 1908, in a cartoon by Apeles Mestres which pictures a variety of paperfolding designs.



In 'Paper Magic' by Will Blyth, which was first published by C Arthur Pearson in London in 1920.



In 'Fun with Paperfolding' by William D Murray and Francis J Rigney, which was published by the Fleming H Revell Company, New York in 1928.



In 'Winter Nights Entertainments' by R M Abraham, which was first published by Constable and Constable in London in 1932.


In booklet 2 of 'Images a Plier', a series of 6 booklets published by Librairie Larousse in Paris in 1932. This booklet also includes a design for a Petite Cale (Little Stand) to support the base of the design.


In booklet 2 of 'Figuras de Papel', a series of 3 booklets published by B Bauza in Barcelona in 1932. The design is equipped with a stand to support the base of the design and, in this case, also with a sail.



In 'Paper Toy Making' by Margaret Campbell, which was first published by Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons Ltd in London, probably in 1937, although both the Foreword and Preface are dated 1936, which argues that the book was complete at that date.



In 'El Mundo de Papel' by Dr Nemesio Montero, which was published by G Miranda in Edicions Infancia in Valladolid in 1939, as 'El barco de la reina' (The Queen's ship).



In 'At Home Tonight' by Herbert McKay, which was published by Oxford University Press in London, New York and Toronto in 1940, contains diagrams for the Chinese Junk and a longer variation, called 'A Barge'.


A Barge (a longer variation also folded from a square)



The design featured in the 1949 Rupert Annual under the heading 'How To Make Rupert's Boat'.



Robert Harbin's Paper Magic, first published in 1956, contains diagrams for various modern modifications and the information that similar designs can be folded from 'practically any paper box without a lid' and from oblongs as well as from squares.