A paperfolding paradise
The website of writer and paperfolding designer David Mitchell
|Komoso / Yakko-san|
|This page attempts to
record what is known about the origin and history of the
origami design variously known as Komoso, Komuso or
Yakko-san. 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.
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-mat 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.
Komoso also appears in a Japanese book by Hayato Ohoka called 'Ranma Zushiki' which contains prints of decorations intended to enhance sliding room dividers, and dates from 1734. One of these prints shows a group of folded paper objects, among which are Komoso, the Crane, the Paper Boat and a Tematebako cube. Komoso is pictured twice, once folded in half and once flat.
There are a number of prints, by, or after the style of, the Japanese designer Nishikawa Sukenobu (1671-1750), which show ladies folding various designs, including Komoso. I have not been able to find a definitive catalogue of Nishikawa Sukenobu's works to confirm authorship or date. If they are all his work they cannot be later than 1750, when he died, but may be considerably earlier.
This first print probably dates to around 1720.
The detail below is from 'The Doll Festival', from the book 'Ehon masu kagami, vol. I', which is in the possession of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and is said to date from 1748.
Komoso also appears in this detail from a third print by Nishikawa Sukenobu, 'Ehon Hana no Kagami', which is also said to date from 1748. It shares many characteristics of composition with the print above.
This fourth print is found in a number of blogs on the net but none of them give a date or the name of the artist. To me, it does, however, look very similar in style to the other prints. (It is worth noting that the Komoso in this print has not been folded in half.)
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.
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).
'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'..
Diagrams for Yakkosan (sic) appear in Isao Honda's 'The World of Origami' published in 1965 by Japan Publications.