Finding Nemo

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

My Origami Sensei

Showing off my drunken crane with my origami sensei Mayumi
I sat at the bar alone, where I had walked from my empty hotel in Kawaguchi-ko, at the base of Mt Fuji.  People fleeing Tokyo had gone much farther to the West.  My bartender Mayumi seemed genuinely pleased to have a customer.  She poured me a Guinness and placed it on a little Guinness-labeled plate and pushed a button.  Suddenly the pint of black liquid foamed up and formed that nice creamy head that normally takes 2 pours and 2 minutes of work.  I chuckled in amusement at the Japanese fondness for gadgets, and I had to admit this one was pretty cool.

I looked around at a number of pretty little paper cranes scattered around the bar.  She confirmed she had made many of them, and I asked if I could be her next student.  Bartender Mayumi was now my Origami sensei.

Origami Dragon made from many sheets of paper
All Japanese schoolkids learn the basics of origami, including the ubiquitous crane.  Origami paper is colorful and a perfect square.  All sorts of weird and wonderful things can be made from this simple base, including frogs, peacocks, and even massive hybrid inventions like soccer balls or dragons.

My first attempt eneded up more like a drunken crane with a bum wing, but Mayumi was a wonderful teacher, and by the 3rd attempt I was putting together an almost respectable specimen.  The crane, or tsuru, is actually quite complicated and takes about 20 or so folds.  Some of the folds are delicate maneuvers that require both hands and the occasional thumb to pull off correctly.  Mayumi's movements were quick and precise, her finished crane was perfect each time.  After my first couple attempts quacked out of the sky, I found that the folds, especially the first few, really do need to be done with great precision.  Any asymmetries quickly multiply.  Soon I was feeling pretty good about my skills, and started to think I was something of a sensei myself.  But at that moment, Taro from the hotel got off work and came in.  After seeing my cranes, he quickly got to work and whipped up an amazing peacock.  Humbled, I realized I still had a lot to learn.  Fortunately, there was no shortage of Guinness.
Taro with his pretty sweet peacock

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