|The Public Paperfolding History Project
|Komoso / Yakko-san / Fukura Suzume|
|This page attempts to record
what is known about the origin and history of the origami
designs known as Komoso, Yakko-san and Fukura Suzume
(Baby Sparrow). 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 his book 'The Art and Wonder of Origami', an English translation of a work published in Japan in 2004, Kunihiko Kasahara discusses the development of the Komoso and Yakko-san designs.He suggests that the original Komoso (variously Komusou or Komosou) was superseded by the simpler Yakko-san 'only after Froebel's origami books ... were introduced to Japan.' This could not have happened until after 1876, when the first kindergarten opened in Japan. If this is so, it means that the print shown in the entry for 1830-42 below is misdated. Unfortunately, I have not yet managed to independently verify the date of the print but if it is correctly attributed to Kunisada Utigawa it can be no later than 1865, when he died.
According to Wikipedia the komoso were a group of Japanese mendicant monks of the Fuke school of Zen Buddhism who flourished during the Edo period of 1600-1868. They were characterized by a straw bascinet (a sedge or reed hood named a tengai or tengui) worn on the head, manifesting the absence of specific ego. They were also known for playing solo pieces on the shakuhachi (a type of Japanese bamboo flute). These pieces, called honkyoku ("original pieces"), were played during a meditative practice called suizen (as opposed to reflective silent meditation) and 'that these monks 'were known first as komoso, which means "straw-hat monk". Later they became known as komuso, which means "priest of nothingness" or "monk of emptiness".
The 'hood' of the origami komoso design is presumably a representation of the straw hat that characterised these monks.
According to Koshiro Hatori in his History of Origami (https://origami.ousaan.com/library/historye.html) 'More familiar origami models such as Orizuru and Yakko-san have been depicted in ukiyoe or patterns for kimono since 18th century. To be accurate, Yakko-san did not exist at that time. They folded it in half and called Komoso.'
Yakko was a (perhaps derogatory) name given to the low-status servants of Samurai during the Edo period.
In the entry for Yakko-san in his Complete Origami (1987) Eric Kenneway calls Yakko-san 'a traditional Japanese clown' and states that 'according to one source, the folding method may have originated in the Muromachi Period (1394-1572).' Unfortunately the source of this information is not given.
The relationship between Komoso and Yakko-san is not clear. In older Japanese prints the figure of Komoso does not have the clear cut lines that Yakkosan has in more recent times, and it is possible to theorise that the two are essentially unrelated, Komoso being a more complex design from the Edo period and Yakko-san a simpler design developed from Froebel's third groundform in the Japanese kindergarten. This, however, cannot be true if the date of the print of the print assigned to 1830-42 (see entry below) is correct. (I have not been able to independently verify this date.)
The Fukura Suzume (the Yakko-san figure with its head turned sideways to create a beak) is mentioned in Kasahara's 'The Art and Wonder of Origami', where he says 'Some origami documents from the Meiji period depict the Yakko as the Fukura Suzume (Baby Sparrow)'.
In Japan (and in publications by Japanese authors)
This image from the picture book 'Keisei Ori Tsuru', by an unknown author, show a child being taught origami in a terakoya (a school for the children of commoners). The detail shows the child writing a poem on the wing of one Paper Crane while another Paper Crane and a Komoso lie on the other end of the table. Source: 'Oru Kokoro', the catalogue of an exhibition on paperfolding history held in Tatsuno City History and Culture Museum in 1999.
This print showing a Komoso lying on the floor comes from 'Onna Fuhzoku Tama kagami' by Nishikawa Sukenobu, which was published in 1723.
This print from a picture book by Mitsonubo Hasegawa, which can be dated to between 1716 and 1734, shows two children with a Komoso and a Paper Boat with Three Sails in a terakoya (a school for the children of commoners). Source: 'Oru Kokoro', the catalogue of an exhibition on paperfolding history held in Tatsuno City History and Culture Museum in 1999.
Komoso also appears in a Japanese book called 'Ranma Zushiki' which dates from 1734. One of these prints shows a group of folded paper objects. Komoso is pictured twice, once folded in half and once flat.
The print below is from the first volume of the illustrated book 'Ehon masu kagami' by Nishikawa Sukenobu, which was published in 1748. The subject of the print is the Hina Doll Festival and the ladies on the left are folding paper. There is a Komoso lying on the floor. Compare and contrast the similar print from 1723 above. There are a number of other similar prints which also show Komosos, but which I have not yet managed to verify or date. Details of these can be found on the page about Paperfolding in Prints by Nishikawa Sukenobu.
This print, which is said to be by the Japanese designer Nishikawa Sukenobu (1671-1750), shows women folding paper. Among the designs they have folded is Komoso. I have not been able to verify that this print is indeed by Nishikawa Sukenobu, but, if it is, it can date to no later than 1750 when he died.
In his article 'History of Origami in the East and the West before Interfusion', published in 'Origami 5: Fifth International Meeting of Origami, Science, Mathematics and Education', Koshiro Hatori writes that, 'The origami history researcher Satoshi Takagi one day bought a box containing many origami pieces. They are considered to have been folded by many persons in the house of Moriwaki from the middle eighteenth century through the nineteenth century ... the newer pieces are the traditional models we know well such as the orizuru and yakko-san.'
Yakkosan in a print by Kunisada Utigawa dateable to between 1830-42 from 'Origami from the Classics' by Satoshi Takagi, published in 1993. Information from Juan Gimeno. On the question of attribution and date see note at head of page.
There is a note in the 'Kan No Mado', usually dated to 1845, which lists 'komuso' among those designs which are already well known and which are therefore not included in the ms (in order to spare the writer's brush). It seems reasonable to identify this with the Komoso design.
A picture of Yakkosan appeared in 'Kindergarten Shoho' (Preliminary Kindergarten) by Iijima Hanjuro, which was copyrighted on October 4th Meiji 17 (1884) and published by Fukuda Senzo in August of Meiji 18 (1885).
A drawing of Yakko-san, and another of the closely related Fukura Suzume (on the right), appear in a monozukushi-e print, by an unknown artist, but said to be from the Meiji era. I have temporarily assigned it the date of 1912, the last year of that era, pending the discovery of more accurate information.
A drawing of Yakko-san appears in an illustration by Takei Takeo in a 1927 issue of the children's magazine 'Kodomo No Kuni' (The Land of Children).
In Western Europe / the USA
'The Art of Chinese Paper folding for Young and Old' by Maying Soong, which was published by Harcourt Brace and Company of New York in 1948, contains diagrams for Komoso although the design is called the 'Monkey'..
This design also appears in 'The World of Origami' by Isao Honda, which was published in the USA by Japan Publications Trading Company in 1965.
Vol 8: Issues 1 and 2 of 'The Origamian' for Spring and Summer 1968 contained an article, 'Origami Scrapbook ... Signs of Spring', written by Peter Van Note, about two Japanese designs, one of which was 'Mr. Yakko'.