In January 2011, Japan Festival came to URANIA, a modern conventional hall in Berlin. The place was very crowded with fans of Japanese pop culture in different anime costumes which were accurately designed to let them look like real anime characters.
Walking through some shops featuring Japanese culture such as green tea, books, and video games, I found an “origami” workshop in a small conference room. Then an idea of a little mischief came to my mind. Honestly, I believed I could be the most competitive origami sculptor in that room. For many Japanese people, origami had been a very popular toy in their childhood. Actually I had been the No.1 origami kid in my neighborhood.
I entered the room. There were several German origami masters teaching how to fold a piece of paper to create a subject to some groups of participants. Some of them were trying to follow the instruction, and some were puzzled about complicated folds that they had never made for any purpose.
I joined one group which was about to start a new session. No one knew I was from Japan and had much experience of it. The instructor spoke to me, “I am not good at English, but I will try to explain. OK?” “No problem. I can follow you by watching how you fold it.” He started to make an envelope as a warm-up exercise. There were two German participants in the group, both of which had difficulty in making it though it was a very easy one. For me, it was a good reminder of how I had done origami in my childhood.
Next was a “kissing fish.” Once the paper becomes a fish, its mouth could move like kissing. It required many folds to draw grid lines, which made a piece of origami look like graph paper. It could be ranked as an intermediate level, no more beginners’. The master slowly started folding, clearly showing us which corner of the paper should meet which grid line step by step. Yet soon the other German ladies got stuck with that complicated lines. The master was busy to instruct each of them to catch up all the time through the finish. I did it by myself by watching how they were doing. He was surprised by me perfectly following him and asked, “Do you have some experience of origami?” “Yes, I played with it when I was a small child.” I was still confident of my skills.
When the master was about to start next subject, the German participants gave up continuing origami. “It’s so difficult! I can’t go any further! I will enjoy watching you guys doing it.” Then there were only me and the master. We did one more intermediate level work quickly. It was still easy for me. He finally asked, “Where are you from?” I answered, “Japan. Origami was my favorite toy.”
I saw he became more serious being faced with a real Japanese amateur expert of origami. “Have you ever made 1,000 cranes for wish?” “Yes. When my favorite teacher in my school got sick, I did it with some of my friends. We made lots of cranes every day and it took more than a week.” “Unbelievable! I have never done it yet in my origami life!” Then he eagerly started to talk about his origami history almost forgetting to fold a new subject. He had never visited Japan but had been impressed by great origami work and started to learn it by reading books so hard that he had became a master. He had developed his original creations which had been awarded. I was amazed by his collection. I had never seen such a new style of origami, which created a good sense of graphics. All the pieces were his original work.
He offered to teach one of them to me. A relatively easy one. “Look. This star looks like a combination of two starts, but it was made of one piece of paper. It’s more complicated with more grid lines. So watch my work carefully. I hope you can do it.” It was a real challenge to me. I knew it was a very high level one. He slowly started folding. I carefully watched how he was doing. The grid lines were dense and even a slight misalignment could lead it to unbalanced final figure. He kindly showed me his small secret. He was using a toothpick to fold the corners for perfect alignment. That was how he was doing precise and small folds with his big hands.
It took around 10 minutes to finish my star. I was as happy as when I had mastered to make something from a piece of origami as a little child. The master said, “You are the first guest in this festival who has caught up with me to make this star!” I admired his honest and pure ambition to learn and develop new ways of origami.
It was time to give the seat to the next participants. The master gave me his business card. His name is Ralf. I really want to see him someday again.
■Ralf’s Origami Online http://www.origami-online.de/index_de.html