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. 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' the Gondola' to mean the simpler variant of the Chinese Junk, which lacks sails, that can be developed from the windmill base.

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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 so 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.

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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.

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David Lister also notes that in Spain the design is known as the Ship of the King and Queen but does not provide any evidence of antiquity in this respect.

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In Japan

'Origami from the Classics' by Satoshi Takagi, published in 1993, shows a drawing of a kimono decorated with the takarabune which dates from 1704.

In Western Europe

Unless otherwise stated all versions of the Chinese Junk referred to in this section are blunt at both ends.

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 chinese junk was, and looked like, at this time.

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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. It is worth noting that this version of the Chinese Junk has one blunt and one pointed end.

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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.

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There is an untitled drawing of a Chinese Junk in Elise Van Calcar's book 'De Kleine Papierwerkers', which was published by K H Schadd in Amsterdam in 1863.

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Victor Hugo's story 'The Man Who Laughs', published in 1869, contains the following words. '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.' This sounds like a reference to the Chinese Junk design.

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The Chinese Junk 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.

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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'.

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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.

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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'.

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Diagrams can also be found, under the name 'Paper Chinese Junk', in 'Cassell's Complete Book of Sports and Pastimes', published in 1882, the paperfolding section of which was based on de Moulidars book.

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

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Diagrams appear 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:

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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.'

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Diagrams for the Chinese Junk also appear in:

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

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

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

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

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

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Margaret Campbell's 'Paper Toy Making', which was first published in 1936.

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Robert Harbin's Paper Magic, first published in 1956 (both ends blunt). This book also 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 other rectangles as well as from squares.

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