Group Autoethnography: Our Experience With Origami

By Taylor Bruno (4726406), Tahlia Irving (5106102) & Rachel O’Loughlin (4871327)

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The idea of choosing origami as the topic for our project was something lightheartedly thrown around in the suggestions. But as we came to discover origami is a lot more than just an arts and craft activity we did as children. We used an autoethnographic approach to origami. Ellis (2011) describes autoethnography as an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyse personal experience in order to understand the cultural experience (Ellis et al. 2011). Our field site for this research were two different instructions, one a video and the other a PDF, on how to build the different figures. The first being the ‘traditional’ crane and the second being the Star Wars character ‘Yoda’. We decided the best method of data collection was to film the group attempting to recreate the origami following the instructions in real time. From this data, we had many epiphanies with the main ones relating to cultural appropriation of the once traditional art form, the meaning behind the crane, and just how hard origami really is!  

Our video:

The instructional paper crane video that we followed:

To give a bit of background information, origami is the art of paper folding,
an art form spanning over 1,000 years. Its name derives from Japanese words ori (“folding”) and kami (“paper”). Traditional origami consists of folding a single sheet of square paper (often with a coloured side) into a sculpture without cutting, gluing, taping, or even marking it (Richman-Abdou 2017). Handmade paper was a luxury item only available to a few, and paper folding in ancient Japan was strictly for ceremonial purposes, often religious in nature. But by the Edo period (1603–1868), paper folding in Japan had become recreational (PBS 2017).

Today origami is an international pastime. Akira Yoshizawa is considered the father of modern origami. In the 1930s he developed a system of folding patterns employing a set of symbols, arrows and diagrams. By the 1950s, these patterns were published and widely available, contributing to origami’s global reach and standardisation (PBS 2017).


Throughout all of Asia, the crane has been a symbol of happiness and eternal youth. In Japanese, Chinese, and Korean tradition, cranes stand for good fortune and longevity because of its fabled life span of a thousand years (Ray 2013).

The Japanese refer to the crane as “the bird of happiness”; the Chinese as “heavenly crane” believing they were symbols of wisdom. The powerful wings of the crane were believed to be able to convey souls up to heaven and to carry people to higher levels of spiritual enlightenment (Ray 2013).


The story of Sadako Sasaki popularised ‘the crane’ as an international symbol of peace. Sadako Sasaki was two years old when the world’s first atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, about two miles away from her home. Sadako survived the explosion, seemingly unscathed.

However, below the surface and over the course of the next ten years, Sadako developed leukaemia. Many other children who were exposed to radiation from the atomic bombs developed leukaemia as well. In Japan, leukaemia was known as “the A-bomb disease.”

While hospitalised, Sadako began to make origami cranes. Ancient Japanese legend holds that anyone who folds one thousand paper cranes, senbazuru, will be granted a wish. After her death, Sadako’s schoolmates began to fold paper cranes so as to continue her legacy, and Japanese school children raised funds to build the Children’s Peace Monument in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park; on top of a three-legged pedestal stands the bronze figure of Sadako.


At the base of the monument, on a black marble slab, a wish is inscribed, “This is our cry. This our prayer. Building peace in the world.” The monument not only commemorates Sadako and the thousands of other children who were victims of the Hiroshima atomic bombing but also symbolises the hope for a brighter future 
(Saghria 2012).


It is clear from the above information that origami as an art form is considered to be a significant cultural artifact with much symbolism and a rich history behind it. Wells (2012) states that ‘there’s more to origami than cranes’ and at present time, origami has significantly materialised in western pop culture. In fact, if you do a quick Google search of your favourite character with the word “origami” succeeding it, chances are there would be an available diagram or instructional video on how to make the particular character in origami form.


This includes a multitude of available diagrams for different types of origami Yoda – yes, the
Star Wars character, which we decided to try our luck at making, as you saw above.


With the flow of origami into western culture comes criticism in the form of questioning whether this is “cultural appropriation.” This term is loosely defined as ‘the use of a culture’s symbols, artifacts, genres, rituals, or technologies by members of another culture’ (Rogers 2006, p. 474). It involves not just using something from another culture and making it your own but using it
without any understanding or respect for the culture (Cambridge Dictionary).

Currently in the digital age with the internet and social media contributing to connecting countries all around the world, social justice and political correctness are ideas that have become increasingly prevalent and it is difficult for cultural appropriation to go unnoticed. There has been much debate over Star Wars itself and whether its creator, George Lucas, appropriated elements of Taoist philosophy and included other Asian influences in the space opera franchise. For example, ‘the robes the Jedi wear harken back to the kimono of samuraiDarth Vader’s mask and breastplate resemble the formal armour of the daimyo’ (Wetmore 2000).


Regarding the topic at hand, it is interesting to note that American author Chris Alexander wrote a book titled
Star Wars Origami, however, we were unable to locate any evidence of whether he has a deeper understanding of the Japanese culture and symbolic history surrounding the art of origami. We only know that he ‘started doing origami when [he] was 4’ as a hobby and ‘fell into making Star Wars origami by accident’ (Wells 2012) when he ‘was teaching children how to fold a penguin, turned it on its side’ (Wells 2012), and realised he had made a B-Wing Starfighter. He had his own ‘epiphany’ (Ellis et al. 2011) of sorts and began creating Star Wars origami.


As this is an autoethnographic task which involves using ‘personal experience to understand cultural experience’ (Ellis et al. 2011), we wanted to showcase our understanding of the symbolism of origami and its rich cultural history before diving into attempting a westernised version of origami (i.e. Yoda). The extensive research we undertook relating to the symbolic nature of our first attempt at origami, being the paper crane, allowed us to understand and value the meaning behind what we were creating. As a result, we developed an appreciation for Japanese culture and wanted to demonstrate this in our second attempt at origami, being Yoda. Whilst we appreciate that cultural appropriation can be a delicate discussion topic, ensuring that we developed an understanding of the meaning behind what we were creating before attempting origami Yoda saw us not erase the origins of origami, but appreciate it.

May the fold be with you.


Alexander, C, 2012, ‘Star Wars Origami’, <>.

Antonimuthu, R 2012, Akira Yoshizawa Origami Collections, online video, 13 March, viewed 10 October 2018, <>.

Blatchford, E 2017, ‘What Exactly Is Cultural Appropriation? Here’s What You Need to Know’, Huffington Post, 26 October, viewed 2 October 2018, <>.

‘Cultural Appropriation’, in Cambridge Dictionary,, viewed 2 October 2018, <>.

Ellis, C, Adams, TE, & Bochner, AP 2011, ‘Autoethnography: An Overview’, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, vol. 12, no. 1, viewed 30 July 2018, <>.

Kahraman, E 2014, Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, online video, 3 March, viewed 10 October 2018, <>. (2017). BETWEEN THE FOLDS | History of Origami | Independent Lens | PBS. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Oct. 2018].

Ray, H. (2013). Legend of the Crane. [Blog] Operation Migration. Available at: [Accessed 1 Oct. 2018].

Richman-Abdou, K. (2017). Origami: How the Ancient Art of Paper Folding Evolved Over Time and Continues to Inspire. [Blog] My Modern Met. Available at: [Accessed 1 Oct. 2018].

Rogers, R. A. 2006, ‘From Cultural Exchange to Transculturation: A Review and Reconceptualization of Cultural Appropriation’, Communication Theory, vol. 16, pp. 474-503, <>.

Saghria, M. (2012). The Story of Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes. [Blog] Waging Peace Today. Available at: [Accessed 1 Oct. 2018].

Wells, T 2012, ‘Origami: an eternal and pop-culture favourite’, McClatchy Newspapers, 5 September, viewed 2 October 2018, <>.

Wetmore, K.J. 2000, ‘The Tao of “Star Wars”, Or, Cultural Appropriation in a Galaxy Far, Far Away’, Studies in Popular Culture, vol. 23, no. 1, pp91-106.


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