Origami is a fun pastime and a fascinating hobby. Paper is a simple material, but the best origami paper (Japanese Kami paper) can make all the difference in learning quickly and making more precise and clean folded models. MUJI is known for it’s simple, non-nonsense stationery, like pens and notebooks. We test out their pack of Japanese origami paper squares. Is this the most underrated piece of Muji stationery and should you add it to your Muji haul? Watch the video to find out and see us put this paper through its paces.
Reviewing Origami Paper from Muji
Vishal: Hello and welcome to Stationery Test Drive where every week we take humble tools and strange tools and other pieces of stationery and do interesting things with them. I’m Vishal.
Samir: I’m Samir.
Vishal: Now we are artists and designers and calligraphers, so paper is not something that is unknown to us. We use a lot of it but specifically I think in this case origami paper is not something you usually draw on or write on or design on. It’s things you make things with and who better to talk about that than our resident paper artist. Samir, why don’t you tell us more about origami paper?
I should explain that Samir is a lifelong paper not just an enthusiast but a professional paper artist and designer of paper things. He has a brand called Papernautic which you can follow. But yes Samir please take it away.
History of Paper
Samir: Origami paper is a very, very interesting piece of paper history because in some ways it might be as old as paper itself. Paper was invented, we don’t know for sure exactly where and by whom, but somewhere in China around 200 or 300 AD.
Vishal: If I can interrupt you, papyrus is an older thing?
Samir: Papyrus is an older thing but paper is a very specific kind of material. Papyrus very much started the idea of taking natural fibers and laying them out in sheets, so it would be the first paper like material in some ways. But paper starts with a pulp which is very different than papyrus.
So, yes in the days of Egypt and Mesopotamia papyrus was kind of the precursor to paper where natural fibers were stripped out of off the plant bark and literally laid out in sheets. What happened with paper was to take a wood pulp and then to lay it down as a pulp into sheets onto a sort of a filtered frame and that’s what gave us this wonderful thing that we all love.
Minjal: So, it traveled from China to Japan, paper, is that the journey?
Japanese Shinto Temples & Paper Folding
Samir: Yes, that’s what’s believed to have happened, since there was enough trade and travel between those areas. I mean the problem with figuring out the history of paper things is the paper doesn’t last but I think it’s safe to say that know people were folding paper as soon as paper was invented, it just seems like a natural thing to do. So as early as 500-600 AD there were already examples of papers being used in Japan for religious purposes. So there are these zigzag forms which we can put on the screen called Shide in Shinto temples.
Samir: And before paper they were made of fabric and after paper those shapes were hung on temples that were made of paper because it was just easier to do. And also at the time paper would have been very expensive so it was something that you would use as a valuable material. It was not something most people could afford. It was things that maybe the royal family could afford.
Vishal: Or a special occasion thing which would have a religious aspect to it as well. What about origami itself, it has probably as much of a history informally but formally where do we get origami from?
Samir: The Japanese have been folding paper as I said since they were introduced to it. It was used in ritual things, it was used as gifts during weddings, so the idea of folding paper into shapes has always existed. The idea of folding it into shapes that represent other things is slightly newer, it’s been around since at least the 1500 – 1600s.
Vishal: And that’s sort of the crux of origami that it should form something else that is recognizable.
Samir: That’s how most of us recognize it for sure. I mean there are obviously entire sections of origami that are abstract and geometrical.
Vishal: Right, like abstract art itself I guess that’s newer and more acceptable now than it was before. We are both attempting to make the kind of things that we were taught as kids by our father who taught us some origami. Minjal, have you ever tried origami before?
Minjal: My mom is one of those self-taught origami airplane enthusiasts. Since she was a child making origami planes and mostly from memory was one of the things she loved doing. Many unsuspecting planes have landed in her neighbor’s houses. Unfortunately, I didn’t inherit that skill from her. I find origami really meditative but I have to watch a video, I follow Samir’s videos on his Papernautic YouTube channel to make things.
Vishal: The thing is that we were kind of like your mom, in that we learned how to make paper airplanes pretty early on. And then we also peppered other people’s balconies and yards with them.
But enough of that. We are Stationery Test Drive and part of the test drive part of the name is that every week we take these materials on an artistic test drive. We are enthusiasts and lovers of stationery and making things. And Minjal you have made things.
Origami Bookmark, Origami Pencil Holder, Origami Masu Box and Origami Book with Muji Origami Paper
Minjal: I wanted to stay true to the theme of stationery and so I made a small book from one piece of Muji origami paper, an origami bookmark and a pen or pencil holder.
Vishal: It’s a sheath like a sword!
Minjal: The other model I made is what the Japanese call a Masu Box, a wooden box which was used to pour rice.
Vishal: Oh, so like a rice measure. I think the small book is fascinating.
Samir: And the fact that it uses the the white side of the paper to make the pages, that’s just a brilliant design.
History of Origami
Vishal: Now that is unusual. why don’t you tell us about how this paper, origami paper from Muji it differs from many other ones, right?
Samir: We were talking about the Japanese having sort of invented origami, if you want to call it that. But the modern version of origami and the name itself is actually not Japanese but it’s German.
Vishal: Origami is German?!
Samir: It started that way because when the Germans invented the whole idea of kindergarten and they felt that children had to have sort of enjoyable activities that were also educational they started using the idea of origami which they came up with the name ‘Origami’ which is folding paper based on the Japanese words, and they’re the ones who kind of popularized it. So this whole idea of us making cute little things with colorful paper actually started with the Germans spreading kindergarten to the whole world including Japan.
Vishal: Okay! That is fascinating and I’m guessing it’s grammatically correct enough that the Japanese also refer to it as origami.
Samir: Yes, because ‘ori’ is folding and ‘kami’ is paper, so ori + kami. Also, the thing I wanted to point out is that common origami paper that you will come across most of the world is actually extremely thin, it’s usually 60 or 62 gsm.
Vishal: It’s not copy paper it’s thinner than copy paper.
Samir: In fact I can’t even find the traditional name for this paper because these days it’s just called ‘kami’ even in Japan which is actually just papers. But this kind of origami paper is now just called ‘kami’ paper.
The Muji Origami paper is two-sided because the paper is made usually white and then it is printed on one side.
Vishal: For such a thin paper to be only pigmented on one side is quite a feat actually.
Samir: Yeah, I mean just the technology and the skill that the Japanese have in papermaking is definitely something that’s unprecedented and I don’t know if anyone’s equaled it even now.
Vishal: And that’s why we are featuring the Muji paper today as opposed to local brands that we get here in India where we live. Samir why don’t you show us your piece?
Modular Origami Cube with Muji Origami Paper
Samir: So the ‘kami’ paper is usually one-sided, some of them are colored on both sides but usually white on one and printed on the other. And yes, the piece that I did was kind of something that would really use that look and that ability to have white and colors.
Vishal: That is lovely and strange and yet so simple.
Samir: And this is again, this is a very modern form of origami. There were no traditional geometrical origami designs that we know of but as origami spread through the world and children learned it and then adults who grew up learning it continued to learn it, eventually brought mathematics into it.
So, this piece is modular origami and made of 12 squares of paper. And the great thing about origami is that as people have learned how to use it, it makes things that are fairly strong. This is much stronger than you think it is.
Vishal: And this particular model you learned from a book, right? Do we have that book somewhere? We should try to find it.
Samir: This is based on a book that was gifted to me and is by one of the most popular living origami artist – Tomoko Fuse. And this is a great book with a lot of geometrical designs. I’m really enjoying playing around with these.
Vishal: I think one of the things I like about the Muji origami paper is the subtle colors and how they’re rich without being overwhelming. Even the red which is traditionally quite a vibrant pop of colour.
Samir: I love that they even have a gray in the packet.
Kirigami with Muji Origami Paper
Vishal: I went for a different type of gami / kami which I believe is called ‘Kirigami.’ Kirigami as far as I understand it is the art of paper cuts. Just like I’m sure people started folding paper the second they were making it, I’m sure someone started cutting paper.
And I’ve done three types of paper cuts, these are all the same paper. For the scissor I used the regular Munix which we featured in our episode on scissors. So these are 3 pieces of paper cut with a scissor and I used a compass in one case.
I was looking for kind of 3 levels of complexity. One was just a simple straight cut for a more geometric look. One of the interesting things about this Muji origami paper is that when you fold it, it doesn’t crease or deform. You’d think that with the white on one side and pigment on the other it would crease but it doesn’t and that allowed me to fold one square sheet into quarters and then do a section using my compass followed by a single cut which is about that long, in a curve using a scissor and then get a perfectly reasonable circle cut.
Now usually even for this level of, it’s not a perfect circle, but it’s as close as you can get, and getting that with just a scissor and a compass and folding, I’d say that involves having paper as good as this. Because if you did it with cheaper paper you get all sorts of creases, it wouldn’t fold out properly again, it wouldn’t be as tough but also as clean.
The red one, of course, is folded 8 times which you can do because it’s such a thin gauge of paper you’re not fighting against it and even with an ordinary scissor I could get very complex cuts in here, unfold it, no problem, nothing tore, which I was very worried about because look at that some of these are pretty much a couple of millimeters wide.
And yeah it glued up and I put it down just so that it would stay in place. This was a great experiment and it’s not something I usually do because like you I’m used to origami paper being origami for making things. But, Kirigami, because we did collage in our Fevicol episode I think I was inspired to try that again. Minjal, you have more stuff to show us don’t you? So why don’t we just put it on the board now?
Abstract Calligraphy on Muji Origami Paper
Minjal: I tried to use calligraphy markers on the Muji paper and it does take the color quite well. Also, I think it’s a good idea because I teach kids applications of calligraphy, and this could be folded into a really nice butterfly.
Vishal: Did you use the Staedtler Calligraph Markers to make the Calligram?
Minjal: Yes, I did!
Vishal: Also, an origami butterfly is another one of those models that I know how to make, but I think Samir has a nice video of it on his channel, so you should watch that because it’s a beautiful model, it’s a very simple model and yes, doing a decorative butterfly is something you two have done as a collaboration between your 2 sort of projects.
Minjal: We call our project the ‘Calligrami Project’. It’s a collaboration of a calligraphy and papercraft artist.
Minjal: What we’ve done as part of Project Calligrami so far is we’ve made diamond calligraphy lights, an entire series on origami butterflies and origami boats.
Vishal: I’ve seen all of these and if you think that we’re being slightly, I don’t know, reticent on this episode it’s purely because there is so much to talk about origami. It’s literally been a lifelong pursuit of ours.
Between Samir, Minjal and I, we have organized nearly half a dozen or more involved workshops, especially before the pandemic and some even during the pandemic via zoom, for sometimes up to what tens of thousands of people? What was your biggest audience for one of those?
Samir: I mean we did one for a channel that had tens of thousands of followers, as for a private zoom workshop, I guess 300-400 people.
Vishal: Wow. You’re used to doing things that are much more than what you’re making what I assume is a dragon, which is one of my favorite models to make in that color of Muji paper.
Samir: But one that I often forget how to, halfway through it, which is what’s going on.
Vishal: But the good thing about origami is that and the good thing about this paper is that you can refold it, you can take it apart a little, it’s not going to be creased beyond use.
Samir: Yeah, it’s very forgiving as far as fixing your errors is concerned.
Muji Origami Paper vs Local Indian Origami Paper
Minjal: Samir mentioned local brands that have color on both the sides, so I have some examples here. I usually use these when I’m practicing origami models and everything that you said is a positive for the Muji paper, doesn’t work with these because they crease very, very easily. It’s quite coarse, it’s not really smooth and it’s heavier.
Samir: It’s not bad at all. I’ve even used it for some of my workshops because when people are learning it’s not that this makes it easier to learn necessarily.
Vishal: No, this is good when you have a better understanding of things, when you have some more experience with stuff. What about Muji itself? Why have we picked Muji this time?
Samir: Part of it is to do with where we are and the fact that Muji is one of the only Japanese brands that we have around here in India which always has origami papers.
Vishal: Right, and it is fairly inexpensive still I think? I don’t know?
Minjal: A pack of 80 sheets would cost approximately Rs. 90.
Vishal: Which is a little over a dollar here with our taxes and that’s pretty good. I was expecting it to be more by now. It is high quality.
Samir: But to put things into perspective, a pack of Muji if it costs Rs. 90, a pack of the usual local stuff would cost maybe Rs. 20.
Vishal: But the quality of the Muji origami paper is much better, it’s worth the Rs. 90. So if you have a Muji or access to Muji wherever you are, do pick one up if you’re passing by, it’s well worth the money, for, as you can see a variety of uses. Do we have anything that we haven’t covered yet because I think this is certainly the most variety we have had on this show for a single type of object.
Samir: I’m very glad that someone like Muji does this because it’s something that has allowed it to kind of spread around the world to places that would normally not have access to good Japanese papers and it also kind of fits with their whole philosophy of being brandless.
Samir: Origami paper is the ultimate in brandless material, it’s what you make of it. I just recently learned that Muji actually is just a short form for Mujirushi Ryōhin which is No-Brand Quality Goods, it literally translates to that.
Vishal: That is definitely a good no brand, good quality product. We do have a brand it’s called Inky Memo and you should subscribe to its newsletter, follow it on social media, follow us on social media where we keep posting about all of the work we do, like this and every week like we said at the start of the show, we test out things, we have many exciting things coming up if you’re a stationery head.
Some big brands that we’re not too happy with. But for that you’ll have to stay tuned, you’ll have to, as we said subscribe to this channel and like it, if you like it. Until next time I’ve been Vishal.
Samir: I’m Samir.
Minjal: This is Minjal.
Vishal: Keep folding!
Get Muji Origami Paper
1. MUJI Japan Origami Paper 27 colors – https://amzn.to/3Ib5x1i