Sword accessory from feudal era shows earliest origami cranes
An illustration on a “kozuka” sword accessory has been confirmed as the earliest drawing of origami cranes. (Provided by Yuhiko Nakanishi)
Three origami cranes shown on a samurai sword accessory created around the beginning of the 17th century revealed the classic “orizuru” folding-paper design was invented a century earlier than previously believed.
The accessory, known as “kozuka,” was attached to blade sheaths or used as the hilt for short swords.
Yuhiko Nakanishi, a director of nonprofit group Nihon Token Hozon Kai (Japan sword preservation association), who lives in Tokyo’s Ota Ward, obtained the kozuka from a collector several years ago.
Measuring 1.4 centimeters by 9.7 cm, the kozuka features drawings of three orizuru and a pine tree.
Nakanishi examined the kozuka and found that it was crafted by Goto Eijo (1577-1617), the sixth head of the Goto family that catered to the Ashikaga Shogunate.
Eijo is famed for working for warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-1598). The carving on the accessory was characteristic of Eijo’s work.
A gold processing method that was no longer used in the Edo Period (1603-1867) was confirmed to have produced the item.
Based on those facts, the kozuka is estimated to have been made between the late Azuchi-Momoyama Period (1568-1600) and the earliest part of the Edo Period.
An orizuru illustration in a design book for dyed goods published around 1700 was previously believed to be the oldest drawing of a paper crane.
Masao Okamura, who studies the history of origami, said the latest finding could help reveal the history of orizuru.
“The posterior half of the depicted orizuru seen from their side was drawn in a wrong way,” said Okamura, who lives in Kunitachi in western Tokyo. “That indicates the illustration was drawn before the method of folding paper (into orizuru) spread widely among people.”
Origami was established during the Muromachi Period (1338-1573) as a method for samurai to show good manners by wrapping their gifts with folded paper.
Traditional “washi” paper of the time was basically rectangular. People could not create origami works without accurately learning how to fold based on the horizontal to vertical ratio of the paper determined by each school of samurai manners.
After the start of the Edo Period, origami became popular in urban areas, particularly among women.
Orizuru was high on the list of preferred origami apparently because it can be created easily with square washi without learning how to fold in detail.
“(The latest finding) indicates orizuru was invented by men in the samurai community as part of their manners,” Okamura said.