Origami is a Japanese compound word which means “paper folding.” It is used to describe crafts made from folded paper in Japan as well as pieces originating in other regions, since so many people associate folded paper crafts with Japan in particular. Individual pieces can vary widely in size and design, from simple folded boxes to ornate creatures made by joining several different sheets of paper.
The art of paper folding actually originated in China around the first century CE. The Chinese referred to their folded paper crafts as zhe zhi, and monks brought the tradition with them to Japan when they visited in the sixth century. The Japanese quickly took to paper folding as a pastime, developing a number of traditional folds, shapes, and styles, many of which were considered fortuitous for particular occasions or life events. The Crane is a particularly famous lucky shape.
Origami was also far from effeminate in Japan; samurai warriors used to exchange intricate origami with each other, for example. A wide variety of types of paper could be used, including delicately marbled paper and paper ornamented with gold leaf. Typically, the paper used in this craft making is square, and the two sides are often different colors. Multicolored Japanese origami paper can be used to create pieces with contrasting colors or panels in different patterns.
Paper arts tend to be ephemeral, because paper breaks down much more quickly that other media. Therefore, it can be difficult to trace the history of origami with physical pieces, although written descriptions and painted depictions of origami can be used to piece together the trends in this craft over the centuries. Origami folding was clearly popular with people in many different walks of life, and gifts of lucky origami were often exchanged between people at festivals and major life events.