While considering ideas for my upcycling project, I happened to come across some of my older journals from my earlier years as a freshman and sophomore in engineering. This gave me the idea to utilize some of these papers to create some sort of origami and the main idea that I am planning on doing right now is using cranes as they are an iconic piece of Japanese culture that has popularized its way into a respected art form. As such, I decided to go with a Shinto Japanese aesthetic which is a belief that revolves around the harmony and connection between nature and divinity. It includes the principles of kami which are gods that are believed to reside in everything including mountains and rivers. These kami are worshipped in shrines across Japan as this practice represents a sense of gratitude and respect for the natural world which is the foundation of the Shinto belief.

Torii (Japanese Gate) That Leads to Itsukushima Shrine

Shinto is the indigenous culture of Japan and is deeply ingrained into the culture and media of its home country as a result. The term Shinto is derived from a combination of two Chinese characters, “Shendao”, and means “Way of the Gods”. The term “Shen” represents “spirit” and “Dao” means “way”. This belief originated from early Japanese Buddhism but evolved to the modern day to signify the spiritual belief in the Kami at the end of the Edo period and surpassed the older Japanese state religion in the 20th century.

In Japan, the crane is symbolic of good fortune and longevity while being connected to the role that animals play in the Shinto belief. Within the realms of the Shinto belief, animals are seen as sacred messengers that act as intermediaries between humans and the divine which usually involves the Kami. The animalistic connection to the Shinto belief inspired me to incorporate some sort of animal into my upcycling project, but I was initially unsure about the animal nor the method to complete this project. As I was going to sleep for the night, I suddenly had an idea about using origami as the medium for this project and the crane as the form of the origami. It seemed like a perfect fit due to them originating from Japanese culture while still fitting the Shinto belief.

Japanese crane on a branch - ohara koson
Japanese crane on a pine branch by Ohara Koson, 1900-30, Japanese woodblock print in color.

Another great influence on my upcycling project is the famous belief of the origami cranes that folding one thousand of these paper cranes can grant a wish or good fortune to the creator. This belief is known as Senbazuru and has deep roots in Japan as a symbol of hope. This belief gained popularity after a victim of the Hiroshima bombing, Sadako Sasaki, embarked on a journey to finish the set of one thousand cranes for a wish of better health after being diagnosed with Leukemia at a young age. She was unable to finish folding all one thousand origami cranes but her family continued to finish the rest of the cranes. Now, she stands as an inspiration for people around the world who come to visit her memorial and hang origami cranes. This story also very greatly inspired me to start my journey into making one thousand origami cranes. I will most likely be unable to finish one thousand origami cranes by the deadline of this project but this will remain a goal for the end of this summer due to its significance as my first summer free from my undergraduate status.

A memorial of Sadako Sasaki

My initial vision for my project was just to create some sort of decor with origami as I felt like my room was minimalistic but not in a purposeful way. It lacked any sort of personality and I felt like this was the perfect project to try an art form that I have not tried since elementary school and to gain something to decorate my room with. At first, I had envisioned creating some sort of jar filled with lots of origami cranes, but I then moved on to wanting to make strings of origami in some sort of fashion. This resulted in an idea to make a mobile to hold strings of cranes and hang that from my ceiling. However, towards the end of the project, I felt like the bland color of the notebook paper would not look great with the mobile and I shifted toward trying to use some Christmas lights to try and intertwine them with my strings of origami. This would allow me to then hang it over my window and give a warm feel to my room during the night. I also tried to incorporate some different colors of paper and some different animals just to experience some other folds and to see what they would look like. 

Due to my usage of the A4-sized paper in my notebooks, I had to remove some parts of the paper to reduce it to a square-like shape which is the desired geometry for creating origami cranes from the several videos I have seen. This sucks a bit due to the lost sections of colored notes but it is only a small section so most of the pages remain with the notes. It is also very nostalgic reviewing my old notes from APPM: Differential Equations as it seems like ages ago but also seems like it was just yesterday that I was in this class. However, something that I noticed while using the notebook paper is how thin it is which creates unwanted creases and does not fold as neatly as the ones shown in the video. It is not a huge problem but it does make the end result less appealing than desired.

My Linear Algebra Notes

The first crane that I made took around 20 minutes as I was very confused about what was even happening in the videos but my second crane took around 15 minutes and the third one took 30 minutes as I tried to do several steps by myself without following the video tutorial like I had before for the first 2. This last one was very tough and frustrating as I would forget to do a step when trying to remember them and had to go back several steps, but it was a good learning experience to prepare me to eventually be able to craft one without the tutorial.

Picture of my first 3 Cranes

After these 3 cranes, I did not make any for several days which caused me to have to lose my muscle memory when making these cranes which resulted in me having to watch the videos again to regain my ability. From then on, I just kept on making cranes over a weekend whenever I felt like taking a break from some work as it was a really enjoyable and relaxing activity. This allowed me to rack up around 25-26 origami cranes over that time period which I felt was a good amount for my project as each one would range between 10-15 minutes as I would either have a really good flow going which allowed me to quickly make the folds or I would completely forget how to do a fold even though I had done it so many times before. 

However, I then got a bit tired of just folding cranes and just using my old notebook paper so I decided to go and use some colored paper that I got from my sister to test some new folds. For these folds, I decided to go with a dog, cat, turtle, and ladybug as they seemed relatively simple but looked pretty cute. They were very simple folds that were very relaxing to follow along with and allowed me to even draw on the origami paper to complete the designs. After finishing up the 4 animals and accidentally ripping one of the more complex ones I tried, I decided to also incorporate these animals into my decor and strung them all together using some string and a needle.

Turtle Origami
Ladybug Origami
Dog Origami
Cat Origami

The end result was pretty nice as it was really easy to hang over my window and the warm color of the lights really elevated the atmosphere of the room. I was able to complete the main goal of creating a decorative piece for my room with this result but I felt like I had some things I could have improved on in the artistic department. Some regrets that I have is using the notebook paper as I really liked the pop of color with the colored paper and wish I had gone with that from the start as that would also allow me to pursue the mobile idea since it would no longer be boring with the singular white colors. However, I still feel like this project was a success as it does add something to my old boring room which really lacked some personality before.

Final Origami Result
Dog Origami on the String
Turtle Origami on String

For the next steps for this project, I actually want to keep making some origami as I discovered that it was a really relaxing hobby that I could easily incorporate into my daily life. This would allow me to further refine this project and complete a mobile design with the multi-colored cranes and also pursue the 1000 cranes goal I had toward the end of the summer.

A Photo of a String of Origami Cranes

1. https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2056.html

2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shinto#:~:text=A%20polytheistic%20and%20animistic%20religion,shrines%2C%20and%20jinja%20public%20shrines.

3. https://japanupclose.web-japan.org/techculture/c20230807_3.html

4. https://japan-avenue.com/blogs/japan/japanese-crane

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shinto

2. https://japan-avenue.com/blogs/japan/japanese-crane

3. https://gracepointchurchlibrary.org/2015/10/01/throwback-thursday-sadako-and-the-thousand-paper-cranes/

4. https://juneberry-lane.blogspot.com/2011/08/tutorial-tuesday-origami-crane-magic_31.html

Videos that helped me:
1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GC_Szxdqh2Y&t=56s&ab_channel=EasyPaperOrigami

2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pqeI94Jri1M&ab_channel=PPO

3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3FVb_BFotC0&ab_channel=ErinPeterson

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4 Comments. Leave new

  • Awesome project David! I actually really like how the notebook paper looks, and I think that mixing the old notes with the colored paper is a really cool look and really adds to your overall aesthetic. You talked about how cranes are considered sacred animals and hold a lot of importance in Japanese culture, and I was wondering if any of the other animals that you incorporated into your design have cultural or religious significance like the crane does.

    • Hey Max,

      Thanks for reading my post! I do think that the colored paper really gives the pop that the decor needed as otherwise, it seemed to blend in with the background. To answer your question, I think that cats are regarded with very high significance in Japan due to their association with the rise of early Buddhism in Japan and their association with luck and good fortune. An example of their importance is the Maneki-Neko statues which are the waving cat statues that can be seen in lots of Asian stores.

  • Jason Allshouse
    February 25, 2024 8:40 am

    Great work David! I like your detailed process on how you used scrap DifEq papers, and eventually got comfortable enough making these to go for your final result! I think that you did a good job achieving the minimalist aesthetic also. Did you consider using something other than marker to draw faces/ features on the characters? Overall great job!

    • Hey Jason,

      Thanks for the comment! I did not really consider anything else to draw the designs as I felt like the marker was a very simple solution and yielded great results.


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