Origami Heaven

A paperfolding paradise

The website of writer and paperfolding designer David Mitchell

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The Blow-Up Frog
 
This page attempts to record what is known about the origin and history of the origami design known as the Blow-Up Frog. 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.

In Japan

This print by the Japanese designer Nishikawa Sukenobu (1671-1750) shows ladies folding paper. Among the designs they have folded is the Blow-Up Frog. This print probably dates to around 1720 but can be no later than 1750 when Nishikawa Sukenobu died.

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This print by Yashima Gakutei (1786-1868), which can be dated to around 1824, shows a courtesan holding a Blow-up Frog.

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Diagrams for the Blow-Up Frog first appear on page 47 of the Kan No Mado, written in 1845. It is one of only a handful of designs in this manuscript that is folded from an uncut square.

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In the book 'The Nightless City, or the History of the Yoshiwara Yukwaku by an English Student of Sociology' written by Joseph Ernest De Becker and published in Yokohama by Z.P. Maruya & Co. Ltd in 1899 there is a chapter on Magic Charms of the Yoshiwara which includes the following passage:

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In his book 'Folding the Universe', published by Vintage Books in 1989, Peter Engel wrote, 'it became customary for a geisha to pin a paper frog to a pillar after entertaining a favourite patron, in the hope that he would return.' No reference for this version of the charm is given.

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Another reference occurs in Robin D Gill's 'Octopussy: Dry Kidney and Blue Spots' published by Paraverse Press in 2007, which is a treatise on Senryu poetry. In explaining the meaning of a poem which he translates as 'by the whore fishing for a frog, a pot of herbal tea' the author states 'The frog is a charm made of folded paper ... with the name of a customer whom the courtesan wants to come back written on its back. 'Frog' in Japanese is a homophone of 'return' (kaeru) ... The frog was hidden in a drawer or somewhere where no one would notice it.'

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In the West

Diagrams for the Blow-up Frog design appear in 'Pleasant Work for Busy Fingers' by Maggie Browne, which was published by Cassell and Company in London in 1891. However, the author does not appear to have known that the design could be inflated.

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Diagrams also appear in 'Houdini's Paper Magic', published by E P Dutton and Company of New York in 1922, where it is called the 'Bullfrog'. Houdini states that he learned this design from an 'Americanised Japanese' (from whom he also learned the Flapping Bird).

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Diagrams also appear, as just the 'Frog', in Fun with Paper Folding, by Murray and Rigney, which was published by the Fleming H Revell Company, New York in 1928 ...

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... and in Margaret Campbell's 'Paper Toy Making', first published in London in 1936, as the 'Inflated Frog'.