Renzuru (literally meaning “consecutive cranes”) is a series of multiple conjoined cranes folded from a single sheet of paper with strategic cuts. The first appearance of renzuru is in a book published in 1797, titled Hiden Senbazuru Orikata (the secret methods of making a thousand conjoined cranes). In the book, its author said, “I, the master of Seiyou Kyuka Roko-an, spent a long time creating renzuru configurations. I wrote some in this book. There are still many other kinds of configurations. I will publish them in the latter part.” The term Seiyou Kyuka is a location name of modern-day Kuwana city, Mie Prefecture. Roko-an is a pseudonym of Gido, the author of Hiden Senbazuru Orikata. Gido (1762-1837) was the chief priest of Choen-ji Temple. He spent as many as 18 years inventing 100 kinds of renzuru configurations. Out of them, 49 configurations were carried in his book Hiden Senbazuru Orikata. Unfortunately its sequel was not published. The further research discovered that Gido continued creating new renzuru configurations after the publication of Hiden Senbazuru Orikata, and that 158 kinds of configurations still remains.
Renzuru is folded with washi (Japanese paper) made from plant fibers such as kozo paper mulberries and mitumata shrubs. The production of handmade washi paper has been decreasing in recent years. That is unfortunate for renzuru producing and also for traditional Japanese culture. The production of washi paper began even in the 7th century. In the Heian period (794-1185), an advanced technique of washi-making developed. This gorgeous washi was called “kasane-tsugi” (literally meaning “overlapping and connecting”). Origami, including as a ceremonial one and as a pastime one, consists of merely a small part of the field using washi paper. Along with the development of washi-making, origami became popular even among the ordinary people. Speaking of origami, Japanese people immediately associate it with a crane. I hope that you would also think of washi when folding an origami crane.
Kuwana city designated “Kuwana-no Senbazuru” (one thousand cranes of Kuwana city) as an Intangible Cultural Property in 1976. The designated “Kuwana-no Senbazuru” covers 49 kinds of congifurations placed in Hiden Senbazuru Orikata. In 2014, Kuwana city designated qualified people as a preserver of “Kuwana-no Senbazuru” skills for the purpose of transmitting renzuru skills and knowledge to the next generation.
Gido created renzuru with a thought of cranes as a symbol of longevity. I hope that you would cherish his thought when folding a renzuru crane. Also, a finished renzuru should look graceful and elegant. Here are some tips to fold a beautiful renzuru:
1. Every single crane must be folded completely.
2. Each non-cutting area for interconnecting cranes should be left within 3mm. (There are exceptions to certain configurations.)
3. Only handmade washi paper made from pure kozo paper mulberries must be used for renzuru folding.
4. Folding must be done in the air. Do NOT fold a crane against a solid surface.
5. Precision is required in drawing a pattern.
I hope that you will enjoy folding a renzuru and spread the renzuru throughout the world as a “successor” to the Culttural Property.
Written by: Yurami Otsuka
Translated by: Tomoko Takagi