Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Origami Kaikan

The Origami Kaikan (International Origami Center) bills itself as the birthplace of origami. According to their English flier (available within the center), they were established in 1859, and were "the first company to produce and sell origami at the request of the Education Ministry", as well as being registered in the Bunkyo-ku cultural heritage list. They're in their own 6-story building, where on the fourth floor they make their own paper.

Floor 1 is the public display area. The second floor is normally closed to the public. The third floor has a classroom area and supplies shop, where they sell paper, pre-packaged kits with instructions and paper for specific patterns, and how-to books for both origami (paper folding) and kirikama (paper cutouts). Generally, either the primary teacher (sensei) is available for free classes, or one of the other staff members. When I was there, the sensei made little reindeer for the rapt audience.

(Set piece telling the story of Kintaro.)

The paper-making floor is open to the public, but the workers were on their lunch break. But, I'm kind of familiar with the process and didn't really need to watch it. The staff didn't try speaking English to me, but the sensei did use a few words when trying to get the idea of "reindeer" across to me. Both the front desk attendant and the sensei were very friendly and willing to talk, although the sensei couldn't spare much time from the Japanese customers who were there to learn how to make their own creations.

(Hinamatsuri set - Dolls Festival.)

As you can see from the photos, there's a mix of "oh my god, how can anyone make something like that", to "wow, that's elegant and simple at the same time". Origami purists refuse to use tape or scissors on their creations. The sensei here doesn't mind making a few key cuts to get the exact shape he wants. And, there are times when you want to use a marker or pen to draw in facial features when you're making a panorama setting like the Kintaro and Hinamatsuri pieces.

(2010 will be the Chinese Year of the Tiger.)

When I arrived, the sensei pointed out one of the students as having come from Texas. During one of the breaks, the woman came over and we started talking. Turned out she was attending university in Boston, and had just come in from a 1 month stay in China where her class had been studying entrepreneurship. She was flying out for the States on Saturday, and had 2 days to sight see in Tokyo. She'd found the Kaikan website and had dropped by just to see what it was like. We discussed a few places that she could get to easily (the sumo stadium in Ryogoku, Ginza, and the Tsukiji fish market). Then we split up on our separate ways.

(Supplies shop on the 3rd floor.)

I talked to the sensei for a few minutes, explaining the correct pronunciation of reindeer and writing it down in katakana. He tolerated my broken Japanese, and at the end gave me one of the pieces he'd made earlier and had set off in a discard pile - a big shrimp. Looks just like one, too.

(Part of the display on the first floor.)

The Origami Kaikan is a lot of fun, and is worth visiting if you're in the area. It's a little tricky to get to, even if you have a map, so you'll definitely want a good map to work from. Take the Chuu-ou rapid line from Shinjuku (as a reference point) to Ochanomizu station. Go out the west exit, turn right and go over the river to face the University Hospital. Continue straight forward between the hospital and Yushima Seido (the old Confucian school) two long blocks (the first block will have Yushima Seido on the right, the second will have Kanda Myojin Shrine on the right). You'll be facing Kuramae Bashi Dori, but there probably won't be any street signs saying that here. You should see a noodle shop on the corner to your left. Turn left and the Origami Kaikan entrance will be about 10 meters from the corner. Open Monday-Saturday, 9:30-6 PM.

(Display space in front of the elevator on the first floor.)

(My shrimp.)


paula said...

hi, thanks for the great info about Origami Kaikan. Can you tell me what general area of Tokyo it is in? We are planning our trip there and I would love to fit it into our itinerary.
Thank you!

TSOTE said...

Thanks for the comment.
The general area is between Shinjuku and Akihabara in central Tokyo. One of the train stops in the middle is Ochanomizu. If you take the Chuo line from Shinjuku, you have to change lines at Ochanomizu to be able to get on the Sobu line to Akihabara. So, if you exit the Ochanomizu station and head north, the Origami Kaikan is about a 1/2 mile walk. It's best to have a good map or use google for travel directions, because the streets in the area are somewhat confusing.