Photo/IllutrationYuga Arisawa poses with an origami cat that he created from "washi" paper in Mino, Gifu Prefecture. (Yoichi Kawazu)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

MINO, Gifu Prefecture--Yuga Arisawa spent two years perfecting his technique for crafting origami cats from tiny sheets of paper that require 83 creases and three hours of intense concentration to make.

Just one miscalculation, and “You can end up with a distorted face or a wrinkled trunk," he says.

Aside from using his fingers, Arisawa, 21, relies on a simple set of tools--awl, cutter, tweezers and toothpicks mainly--for his work.

"You have to use all your fingers to make the right movements and apply the right level of pressure.”

He starts by putting a crease into a square-shaped piece of Japanese traditional “washi” paper measuring just 5 centimeters on each side, before unfolding it. He forms another crease in it and unfolds it again, repeating the process over and over.

A misplaced crease of even less than a millimeter could ruin the finished product.

Arisawa is employed by Corsoyard, a handmade "washi" manufacturing studio based in this central Japan city. His job is to make origami cats, which are then treated with acrylic coating and marketed as “Origami Jewelry” ornamental charms for pierced earrings and necklaces.

With the help of toothpicks, tweezers and other tools, Arisawa forms 83 creases in a piece of paper, which he subsequently sets about folding.

Before long, it begins to take the three-dimensional shape of a cat, complete with a puffed-up trunk, a pliantly extending tail and an elaborately wrought mouth. The paper animal feels almost as transparent as a piece of glasswork.

Arisawa focuses his attention on applying the right level of pressure with his fingers because the washi is so thin and the folding patterns are so fine.

EARLY PASSION

Arisawa worked out the cat product on his own. He spent 730 days designing it and making prototypes.

“You could get a cat by simply folding paper into overlapping layers,” he said. “But it would look flat and not particularly nice. I wanted to create something that feels three-dimensional and looks beautiful when held up to the light.”

Arisawa took no short cuts. He designed the cat so it would have fewer overlaps and be appreciated from any angle.

In kindergarten, Arisawa was fond of folding square cutouts of ad fliers for fun.

As a sixth-grader, he pressed his parents into buying him a book with photos of works by an origami artist. He attempted to fold a dragon, which appeared to be the most complicated of all the pieces displayed, and was shocked to realize how complicated it was.

He became engrossed in the world of “super-complex” origami works.

Arisawa experimented with different origami designs in honing his skills.

In his first year of junior high school, he created a “giraffe stag beetle,” his first original work. To date, he has come up with nearly 100 designs that include a passenger aircraft, alto sax and an elephant.

BACK TO SQUARE ONE

Arisawa faced one snag along the way: ensuring a stable supply of the right paper.

Typical origami are not very big, and the paper needs to be thin and strong. Arisawa tried out imitation Japanese vellum and wrapping paper, but found handmade washi paper to be the best choice for folding.

He frequented a shop in Sapporo, where he lived, that dealt with handmade paper products from around the world. Arisawa learned that paper manufacturers were troubled by the problem of a lack of successors.

This triggered a yearning to start at square one in the papermaking process, so he made the rounds of 10 or so washi manufacturing studios in four prefectures, including Shiga and Kochi. By then, Arisawa was only a third-year senior high school student.

He became friendly with Kenji Sawaki, the 39-year-old head of the Corsoyard studio in Mino, Gifu Prefecture, who was making a living by washi manufacturing alone. He wrote to Sawaki, saying he wanted to work for him.

Arisawa moved to live in Mino in March 2016, immediately after he finished senior high school, and began studying washi manufacturing at Corsoyard.

The process of making washi involves dissolving “kozo” (paper mulberry), “ganpi,” “mitsumata” (Oriental paperbush) and other plants into a raw solution, which is then spread on a mold screen to make sure the raw fibers are intertwined in all directions to give strength to the paper.

“Arisawa is young, so he may still change his mind, but both he and I assume he will be my successor,” Sawaki said.

Arisawa concentrates on washi orders received from a manufacturer of round fans, a lighting apparatus maker and a paper lantern artist. He also draws on his own special skills in creating the Origami Jewelry series, one of the centerpieces of Corsoyard’s product lineup.

It takes Arisawa three hours or so to fold a cat, and his work, originally a washi piece only 5 cm per side, ends up with a price tag of 10,800 yen ($100), including tax.

His cats are a top earner for the studio, as they are a favorite with visitors, and particularly with cat lovers, when they are shown at exhibitions.

“I hope my origami works will inspire the public to use washi more often, which will in turn provide a further push for making new origami works,” Arisawa said.