Origami Heaven

A paperfolding paradise

The website of writer and paperfolding designer David Mitchell


The Tematebako
Diagrams for this design can be found here
The earliest evidence for the existence of any modular origami design comes from a Japanese book by Hayato Ohoka published in 1734 called 'Ranma Zushiki' which contains prints of decorations intended to enhance sliding room dividers. One of these prints shows a group of folded paper objects, among which are the traditional crane, Komuso / Komoso, the boat now commonly made from a Newspaper Hat and a cube. The cube is pictured twice (from slightly different angles) and is identified in the accompanying text as a tematebako or 'magic treasure chest'.

It is almost certain that the cube in the picture is the one that appears in Isao Honda's 'World of Origami' (Japan Publications ISBN 0-87040-383-4 published in 1965) where it is called the Cubical Box. The six modules required for this design are developed from the traditional Japanese paperfold commonly known as the Menko (which can be used to hold thread and so is also sometimes known as the Thread Container). The modules are provided with tabs and pockets (the tabs are developed using cuts) and can be combined to form the cube without the need for glue. Each module forms one face of the finished cube.

  The Menko is developed from the traditional Pinwheel by folding each of the arms inwards and interlocking them to form a pouch.  
Once the cube is fully assembled, each of the six Menko can still be opened (but only one at a time unless they have been glued together), first to give access to the inside of the pouch (so that the pouches can still be used to store thread), and then to provide access to the central space inside the cube.

The diagrams for this cube were first published in 1937 in Margaret Campbell's Paper Toy Making (still obtainable from Dover Publications) under the title 'Harlequin Stamp Box'. Here, the Menko are referred to as Envelopes. The name Stamp Box derives from the idea that the Envelopes might be used to hold stamps rather than thread. The modules are identical to those of Isao Honda (so are provided with tabs and pockets) but the now attractively quaint assembly instructions ignore the existence of the pockets altogether and direct the reader to glue the tabs together to produce a harlequin pattern (which is then completely concealed within the cube).

The idea of tidying up the design by tucking one pair of opposite tabs away in the pockets behind them is a modern innovation.

The name Tematebako clearly implies that treasures could be stored inside the cube, but it is not clear whether this just refers to storage within the Menko themselves or in the much larger space in the middle of the cube.

More information about the Tematebako can be found in Kunihiko Kasahara's 'Extreme Origami' ISBN 0-8069-8853-3 published by Sterling in 2002. (Originally published in German in 2001 by Augustus Verlag.)