(The following is a cross-post by Jennifer Ezell, an Educational Programs Specialist in the Informal Learning Office, with special thanks to Cameron Penwell, Japanese Reference Specialist in the Asian Division at the Library of Congress. It originally appeared in the blog Minerva’s Kaleidoscope.)
This past April, we hosted our annual Japanese Culture Day event, a celebration of Japanese culture and heritage featuring activities for kids and families, displays of collection materials and performances from local musicians. At this event, I saw a drawing that gave instructions on how to fold an origami Japanese tiger prawn, or shrimp. These shrimp instructions were part of a display featuring reproductions of Japanese rare books from the Library’s Asian Division and woodblock prints from the Prints and Photographs Division. Ever since I was a child, I have enjoyed the art of origami and seeing this shrimp image inspired me to try and recreate the animal myself.
In the past, the origami instructions I’ve seen and used have been very detailed and step-by-step with images showing how each fold is made. The instructions for this shrimp however, were much more limited. The only information to work off of was three drawn images, one of which was the final, completed shrimp. How could a shrimp be made from that, and how can we replicate the designs with so few details? I decided to find out.
After Japanese Culture Day, I reached out to Cameron Penwell, a Japanese reference specialist in the Asian Division of the Library, who selected a few books from the of the collections for me to see.
One set of origami materials was from an academic journal that went into depth about the mathematics behind origami. Another showed ways to fold paper into intricate envelopes to use to give gifts of money, or as table decorations at a wedding. There was another book that had several pages of different animals, including at least three other origami shrimp. The variety of paper folding designs was amazing!
Cameron then brought out the book which contained the origami shrimp image I had asked about. The book is listed in the collections as “Kayaragusa, Maki no 8” but is also commonly known as “Kan no Mado.” It is not yet digitized, so seeing it in person was the only way I was going to be able to get a closer look at the shrimp instructions. As I explored the book more closely, I saw several other animals depicted in the book, including a frog, a lobster and even people in historic costume with decorated paper that folds to form a colorful outfit.
Cameron also did some research into the book’s history to share with me. The “Kayaragusa, Maki no 8.” is one of hundreds of items donated to the Library from the personal collection of Frederick Starr (1858-1933), an anthropologist from the University of Chicago from 1892 to 1923. He focused much of his work on Japanese culture and particularly the Ainu people of Hokkaido, in northern Japan. In 1934, his sister Lucy H. Starr donated many items from Starr’s collection to the Library, after his death in 1933. To learn more about Frederick Starr’s work and collection, see this 2019 blog post.
The “Kayaragusa, Maki no 8,” is believed to be a handwritten copy of an original book that is one of several dozen, if not more than 100, volumes on origami that is part of a set held in a private collection in Japan. The full set of the origami books have never been sold, so it is not clear how many volumes there are. While we don’t know exactly how Starr came to own this edition of the “Kayaragusa, Maki no 8,” it was, at one point interpreted and edited by Julia McLean Brossman and Martin W. Brossman, part of a group of international origami enthusiasts, and published in 1961 as “A Japanese Paper-Folding Classic; excerpt from the “lost” Kan no mado.”
To help me recreate the shrimp, I started by looking at the image of the shrimp closely for context clues as to how to make it out of paper.
I noted the three drawings of the shrimp showed some dotted lines and some solid lines. I thought that some of the solid lines were folded parts of paper, like the lines running along the shrimp’s back. However, I didn’t think all of the solid lines were folds. From my assessment of the shrimp image, I came up with the following instructions on how to recreate the shrimp yourself.
Fold a square piece of origami paper in half and cut along the fold to create a rectangular piece of paper.
Beginning about one third of the way down the rectangle, fold the paper up to create a crease. Now fold the paper back down, leaving a slight overhang of the folded paper. This creates the first rib of the shrimp’s spine. Continue to fold the paper to create more ribs down the shrimp’s back until you have about 1/4” left of the paper.
The remaining 1/4” of paper is the shrimp’s tail. Make 4 cuts in the paper along the tail from the end of the paper up to the shrimp’s ribbed back folds. This creates the separations in the tail.
On the front, unfolded section of the paper, make long cuts down the paper to about 1/4” from the first fold in the paper. This creates the initial antennae for the shrimp.
Turn the paper over. You are now working on the underside of the shrimp. Fold the shrimp long-ways on both sides, towards the middle of the paper. Your shrimp is now half as wide as it was before this step.
Working on the underside of the shrimp, fold the shrimp long-ways in an arch to create a rounded side of the shrimp. This will not be a straight-line fold. Repeat this on the other long edge of the shrimp, still working on the underside.
Turn the shrimp over to work on the top of the shrimp. Locate two of the antennae strips, equidistant on either side of the middle of the shrimp’s body. Fold the antennae in half and begin twisting the paper around itself. Once the paper is fully wrapped around itself, squish the end of the paper to form a rough circle to create the shrimp’s eyeball. Take a pen or marker and make a small dot for the eyeball on the circle.
Using your fingers, begin to curve the back of the shrimp to form an arch. This can be done by slightly separating the folded papers from step one along the shrimp’s spine, but keeping the folds tighter together the further from the spine of the shrimp you go. Along the sides of the shrimp the folds of the back will be closer together.
Taking your scissors, go back to the shrimp’s antennae and trim them into points so they are less square on the ends. This will make the antennae smaller and more delicate looking.
Using either your fingers or a pen/pencil, curl the antennae to shape it downward so the paper is no longer straight.
Your shrimp should now be done! Compare your work to the original image from the “Kayaragusa, Maki no 8.” It may not be exactly the same as the image, but you may also find ways to make it easier with practice, or you may make changes to this pattern. For me, the process of deciphering the shrimp origami instructions took many attempts and resulted in several shrimp failures. Try to make your own “Kayaragusa, Maki no 8.” inspired Japanese tiger prawn, or shrimp, and let me know how it goes! I’m proud with the finished shrimp product, and he now has a very cozy home in our Young Readers Center and Programs Lab. When you next visit, try and spot him in his new home.
If you would like to learn more about how origami appears in other Japanese collections at the Library of Congress, take a look at these collection items:
Did you take an attempt following our directions to make an origami shrimp? Let us know in the comments how yours turned out!