Museum stories
Make your own origami inspired by Japanese prints

Origami (from ori meaning ‘folding’, and kami meaning ‘paper’) is the ancient Japanese art of paper folding. It is believed that paper was first invented in China around the second century AD however many people believe that paper is even older than this.

Paper was brought to Japan around 500 AD by Buddhist monks. In Japan folding paper became an art form. At first it was mostly used in religious ceremonies, because paper was expensive, and most people couldn’t afford to buy it. Origami was also used to create paper butterflies for wedding ceremonies. By the 1600s, play-origami was used throughout Japan and had spread to Europe as well. Today it is enjoyed by people around the world as craft that is both beautiful and fun.

A boat inspired by Katsushika Hokusai’s The Great Wave

You might not have noticed before, but The Great Wave by Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849) depicts boats battling amid the swell and spray. The boatmen cling on for dear life as the wave looms above them – hopefully your origami boat inspired by this iconic image won’t have to brave such stormy seas!


A crab inspired by Utagawa Hiroshige’s woodblock print of a crab and a fish

The work of renowned painter and print artist Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858) inspired our origami crab. Hiroshige produced many prints in the Kachoga genre (meaning ‘pictures of birds and flowers’), although the images often combined fish, insects and small animals with flowers.

You can see some more of these from the Museum’s collection here.


A fish inspired by Chikuseki’s woodblock print of a carp

A carp swims in the clear, calm waters of this print made by artist Chikuseki who lived in the early 20th century.

In the fish’s scales you can see the subtle effects of using a technique known as gradation (bokashi), where printers wiped pigments across the woodblock. Try shading your origami fish to match!   


A dragonfly inspired by Morita Kako’s woodblock print of a dragonfly on a plant

You’ll have to look very closely to see the fine details in this print by Morita Kako (1870–1931) – the tiny flowers on the stems of the plants and the veins on the dragonfly’s wings.

This image made around the turn of the 20th century inspired our origami dragonfly – perhaps you can use some red paper to emulate the artist’s work.


Feeling inspired? You can create more origami based on Japanese prints with Origami, Poems and Pictures, published by Nosy Crow, in collaboration with the British Museum.

The book features many more origami designs and comes with over 50 sheets of beautiful origami paper. Find out more and buy the book here.

Origami introduction text © Nosy Crow 2017
Origami diagrams and instructions © Nick Robinson 2017
Crab origami design by Nick Robinson
Dragonfly origami design by Kunihiko Kasahara