A paperfolding paradise
The website of writer and paperfolding designer David Mitchell
page attempts to record what is known about the origin
and history of the Kusudama. 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.
It should be noted that the term kusudama is frequently nowadays used as a word to describe any modular ball or star design. In my opinion, however, the term should be reserved for those modular design which represent balls of flowers of leaves.
According to the book 'Japan and Things Japanese' by Mock Joya, published by Kegan Paul Ltd and Columbia University Press in 2006, kusudama 'originated in the Heian period (794-1192). At first fragrant woods and herbs were placed in a small cloth bag, which was decorated with the blossom of shobu or iris or other flowers. Long silks of five different colours were attached to it. This was hung in the house on May 5th to dispel evil spirits and disease.' I am not aware of the evidence that the author relied on for this early date.
A traditional kusudama of this kind is pictured in this undated print 'Tosei Kusudama Go-sekku' by the artist Kikugawa Eizan (1787-1867) which is in the collection of the British Museum.
At some point - and I do not know when - the word kusudama also began to be used to describe hanging balls of flowers made from folded paper, which were often glued or sewn together. This is said to be one of the roots of modular origami but hard information from historical sources to confirm this is currently lacking.
Eric Kenneway's 'Complete Origami', first published in 1987 contains diagrams for the now familiar kusudama pictured below. According to Kenneway diagrams for this design first appeared in the Nippon Origami Association's journal 'Origami' in April 1978.