Akira Yoshizawa was a Japanese origamist, considered to be the grandmaster of origami. He is widely recognized for his work in raising origami from a craft to a living art form. Yoshizawa devised many new folding techniques during his lifetime. According to his own estimation made in 1989, he created more than 50,000 models, of which only a few hundred designs were presented as diagrams in his 18 books. Yoshizawa acted as an international cultural ambassador for Japan throughout his career. In 1983, Japanese emperor Hirohito named him to the Order of the Rising Sun, one of the highest honors that can be given to a Japanese citizen.
Yoshizawa was born on 14 March 1911, in Kaminokawa, Japan, to the family of a dairy farmer. When he was a child, he took pleasure in teaching himself origami. He moved into a factory job in Tokyo when he was 13 years old. His passion for origami was rekindled in his early 20s, when he was promoted from factory worker to technical draftsman. His new job was to teach junior employees geometry. Yoshizawa used the traditional art of origami to understand and communicate geometrical problems.
In 1937 he left factory work to pursue origami full-time. During the next 20 years, he lived in total poverty, earning his living by door-to-door selling of tsukudani (a Japanese preserved condiment that is usually made of seaweed). During World War II, Akira Yoshizawa served in the army medical corps in Hong Kong. He made origami models to cheer up the sick patients, but eventually fell ill himself and was sent back to Japan. His origami work was creative enough to be included in the 1944 book Origami Shuko, by Isao Honda. However, it was his work for a 1951 issue of the magazine Asahi Graph that launched his career, although, according to another account, his first step on the professional road was a set of 12 zodiac signs commissioned by a magazine in 1954.
In 1954 his first monograph, Atarashii Origami Geijutsu (New Origami Art) was published. In this work he established the Yoshizawa–Randlett system of notation for origami folds (a system of symbols, arrows and diagrams, which has become the standard for most paperfolders. The publishing of this book helped Yoshizawa out of his poverty. It was followed closely by his founding of the International Origami Centre in Tokyo in 1954, when he was 43.
Although Akira Yoshizawa pioneered many different origami techniques, wet-folding is one of his most significant contributions. This technique involves slightly dampening the paper before making a fold. Wet-folding allows the paper to be manipulated more easily, resulting in finished origami models that have a rounder and more sculpted look.
Akira Yoshizawa died on 14 March 2005.
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