By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)
Westport, CT – Kimonos, yukatas, wadaikos, uchiwas and origami were the order of the day and all celebrated the rich culture of Japan while helping assist survivors of the earthquakes and resulting tsunami that devastated the country this past March.
Held early Saturday afternoon, the “Origami Workshop”, hosted by the Westport Historical Society at 25 Avery Place, engaged people of all ages in the art of paper folding. The program was free though donations were encouraged, with all contributions, as well as revenue from the sale of origami kits and earrings, to go to a dedicated earthquake survivors fund.
On March 11, 2011, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck northern Japan. The quake was followed by a tsunami that inundated approximately 217 square miles of the island nation. More than 18,000 people perished according to one count and many more were lost. Nuclear reactors along Japan’s northeastern coastline were also damaged, causing a release of radioactive materials into the air and contaminating surrounding areas. The financial toll is in the hundreds of millions.
Event coordinator Junko Burns said she has not stopped working toward the cause since the tragedy occurred, and formed a group called Westport Supports Japan, to help. “My Japanese friends and I had been getting together for a long while already, dressing in our kimonos and yukatas, to have fun and keep Japanese traditions alive,” she said. “Our activities since the earthquake have included drumming and other origami workshops, to benefit quake survivors.”
Drums, in fact, were part of the day’s workshop program. Called wadaikos, a pair sat on the front lawn of the Historical Society and were being struck by Kasumi Araki and her son, Mikoto, 2, who were both dressed in yukatas (summer kimonos or robes).
However, the main attraction was origami, a craft believed to date back to the 6th century when Buddhist monks brought paper to Japan. Translated, ori- means “fold” and gami means “paper”. About a dozen members of Burns’ group, the majority dressed in yukatas, sat at several tables placed in the Society’s Sheffer Gallery and instructed visitors on how to fold colorful squares of paper to create certain shapes or creatures – a dog, cat, crane, box, frog, even anime character Pikachu!
In fact, Westporter Yuko Moy, was creating the bright yellow character, explaining that it takes 11 folds to make Pikachu. “Then we draw eyes and a mouth,” she said. “It’s very easy for any age to pick up and do.”
Sisters Helen and Alice Thum, 16 and 13 respectively, from New York City, were among the other instructors. A week ago, Burns, a family friend, had given the girls 420 squares of paper and challenged them to make an equal number of cranes. Burns distributed another 580 squares to other friends issuing the same challenge and, together, the group created the requested figures. These were assembled into a decorative ornamental, which was affixed in the doorway of the Gallery. The 1,000-crane count is thought to bring luck to the person that hangs it in their home.
“It took us over four days to fold the 420 cranes,” said Helen. “It was fine, delicate work.”
An equal challenge was the intricate folding and beading Westporter Chika MacDonald and Southporter Miyako Sakaguchi had to do to create the many pairs of earrings on display, each of which incorporated a tiny folded paper crane. “It takes 10 to 15 minutes to create each earring,” said Sakaguchi.
MacDonald said the group enjoys getting together and that it is important to her to keep Japanese culture alive. “Especially with my daughters,” she said, “who are half American because of my American-born husband.”
Samantha Kirschner, 11, visiting from Norwalk, had certainly dived into the culture and was enjoying the origami. “I’ve done it before but wanted to learn more,” she said. “That the workshop was for the earthquake victims was a big extra bonus. The crane is probably the hardest I’ve done but looks the coolest. The paper’s really colorful. Some sheets I’ve seen have patterns, which make the paper figures even neater.”