The Public Paperfolding History Project

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Last updated 9/1/2024


Japanese Folded Letters
This page is being used to collect information about the history of Japanese Folded Letters. 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 do not know if there is any significance in using one or two backwards folds to close a letter.

In 'Genji Monogatari' (The Tale of Genji), which was written by Murasaki Shikibu and was substantially complete by 1021 there are many references to letters, some of which are said to be folded, knotted, twisted or wrapped. In the English translation by Royall Tyler, which was published by Penguin Group in 2001, three of these types of letters are identified as musubi-bumi (knotted letter), tate-bumi (straight-folded letter) and tsutsumi-bumi (wrapped letter). No Japanese term for the twisted letter is given.

There is a separate page about Japanese Knotted Letters.

Another kind of letter, that, for the sake of easy reference, I call the rolled letter, appears in some early Japanese prints. It seems to be folded up by first creating a point in one short end using two folds, then rolling it up sidewards using several other folds so that the point goes around the edge of the final fold to hold it shut.


Twisted Letters


The 'Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon', (accessed in the translation by Ivan Morris) which was completed in 1002, contains several references to twisted letters.



A Twisted Letter is shown in a print by Ogata Gekko. I am indebted to David Humphries of for telling me that 'this print is part of a small format album titled Nihon Jo Reikshiki (loosely Etiquette for young Women). The album itself was published by Matsuki Heikichi in 1898.'


Singly Folded Straight Letters


In this print by Nishikawa Sukenobu, from 'Ehon tamakazura', the woman on the left is holding a letter closed with a single fold.



This print by Nishikawa Sukenobu, from 'Ehon fude tsubana' shows documents which have been closed with a single backwards fold.


Doubly Folded Straight Letters


In this print by Nishikawa Sukenobu, from 'Ehon Miyako Zoshi' (Picturebook of Life in the Capital), a letter closed using two folds lies on the shelf to the left.



This print by Nishikawa Sukenobu, from Volume 1 of 'Ehon kame no oyama', shows a similar document in a similar position.


Volume 3 of the same book also shows a document closed using two backward folds.


Rolled Letters


This print is from Volume 2 of the picture book 'Kishi enpu' by Sokyushi, which was published in 1803. A number of completed rolled letters lie on the floor. A woman folds another letter, but does not appear to use a method which would create the same kind of folded letter.