The Public Paperfolding History Project

Index Page


Japanese Paperfolding - An Overview
This page provides an overview of evidence relating to the history of paperfolding within Japan. Western-style kindergarten education, including elements of paperfolding, was imported into Japan from 1876 onwards. This date is thus a watershed in the history of paperfolding in Japan.

This page is incomplete at present


Japanese paperfolding before 1876


Japanese paperfolding after 1876

The import of Froebelian paperfolding ideas and designs

The first Japanese kindergarten was established at the Tokyo Women’s Normal School (now Ochanomizu University) in 1876 by Clara Zitelmann, a trained German kindergarten teacher, who had gone to Japan to marry her fiancee Hazama Matsuno. Hazama Matsuno had met Clara while accompanying Prince Kitashirakawanomiya on his studies abroad and it is possible that it was he who had suggested that she undertook kindergarten training before joining him in Japan.

According to 'The first two Japanese kindergarten instructors were Fuyu Toyoda and Hama Kondo, who worked together with Clara and followed her guidance. Since Clara could not speak Japanese, the kindergarten principal, Shinzo Seki, translated her English for them. That language barrier likely limited Clara’s daily contact with the kindergarten students, but as the only experienced instructor, she was indispensable in performing key elements of Froebel-method education, such as song play and the puzzle-like Froebel “gifts.”'

Clara Matsuno, Fuyu Toyoda and Hama Kondo playing the Pigeon's Nest game with Ochanomizu University Kindergarten children.

And, presumably, the 'occupations' and Froebelian paperfolding as well. In his article 'History of Origami in the East and West before Interfusion' in 'Origami5 - Proceedings of the Fifth International Meeting of science, Mathematics and Education' CRC Press, 2011, Koshiro Hatori writes: 'Many of the European origami models recorded in Kraus-Boelte's book (meaning Maria Kraus Boelte and John Kraus 'The Kindergarten Guide' volume 2: 'The occupations') are not included in contemporary Japanese records. The pig, house, sofa (also known as piano or organ), balloon (waterbomb), arrow (paper plane), salt cellar (cootie catcher), bird (pajarita or cocotte), and windmill ... were all born in Europe and imported into Japan along with the Kindergarten system' - thus creating at least part of the 'Interfusion' of the article title.

It is tempting to wonder if this process went two ways and if traditional Japanese folds might have been 'interfused' in the opposite direction through the Kindergarten movement. A hint that this is possible can be found in Kate Douglas Wiggin's and Nora Archibald Smith's 'Froebel's Occupations' page 235, in the chapter devoted to Paper Folding, 'The wonderful dexterity and inventive powers of the Japanese children are again shown in these specimens of work from the Empress's kindergarten in Tokyo, which have before been mentioned.' The previous mention (on page 176) referred to a picture of Mount Fuji woven from paper strips and it is not quite clear if the author's are saying that they also received paper folded models in addition to this.