A paperfolding paradise
The website of writer and paperfolding designer David Mitchell
A Japanese woodcut from 1734
depends on what you mean by origami. If, like me, you
mean paperfolding of any kind then it is possible -
indeed quite likely - that some basic kind of origami
began in China soon after paper was first invented. On
this theory the idea then spread from China to Korea and
from Korea to Japan. There is no proof of this theory,
but since this is what happened with papermaking, writing
and many other aspects of oriental culture it is perhaps
quite likely that it happened with origami as well. If,
however, by origami you mean something much more
restricted, such as paperfolding with a ceremonial,
recreational or educational purpose, the question becomes
harder to answer.
From the evidence we have today it appears that ceremonial and recreational paperfolding began quite independently at an early date in two widely separated areas of the world, Japan and Western Europe. It is quite conceivable that it also arose independently at an early date in China, but firm evidence to back up this theory is largely lacking at present.
It used to be theorised that origami spread to the West through contact with the Orient, particularly with China, in much the same way as papermaking did, but in fact the opposite seems to be true. Soon after the Meiji Restoration in 1867 the Japanese government imported the kindergarten educational system of Friedrich Froebel into Japan. Paperfolding was an integral part of Froebel's system, and in this way knowledge of many of the traditional Western European designs spread into Japanese culture. Similarly, though there is much less direct evidence of this, Japanese magicians and performers may have brought traditional Japanese designs to the West at around the same date.