Mecho and Ocho: Traditional Origami Butterflies
- wrappers such as noshi,
- envelopes such as tato,
- formal certificates such as Patenbriefs,
- and other functional folds such as letter folds.
[Top: Mecho; Bottom: Ocho]
The first appearance of Mecho and Ocho was in the book Kayaragusa (Window on Midwinter) published in 1845. Kayaragusa is a series of booklets about Japanese culture; two of the volumes were dedicated to paper folding. The original manuscript is owned by the Asahi Newspaper in Osaka and very few people have had the privilege to see it. As far as we know, there has been no photocopies made from the original volumes.
[Photo: Sake paper-cover; proposed precursor to Mecho/Ocho. Image from CDO]
The Brossmans published the work as “A Japanese Paper-folding Classic (Excerpt from the “lost” Kan no mado). It is a limited edition publication with only 500 hardcover copies made. You can get a copy from amazon or from lulu.
[Note: the 1845 volumes were mistakenly translated as “Kan no mado” instead of “Kayaragusa” thus the Brossmans refer to it as “the lost Kan no mado”.]
From these convoluted events, we can infer that, in 1845, there existed two forms of Mecho/Ocho; one pair is made from the Ogasawara-style of paper folding. The second pair is unnamed so it may be the common form from that era.
[Woodblock prints from 1800’s showing Mecho/Ocho.]
Mecho and Ocho Diagrams
These two butterflies are shown in Brossmans’ “A Japanese Paper-folding Classic (Excerpt from the “lost” Kan no mado)”. Note how Mecho (female) has the outermost flaps folded back (mountain fold) whereas Ocho (male) has the outer flaps folded forward.
You can buy a pair of Mecho and Ocho for about $20 (see here). Mecho and Ocho are used to decorate sake bottles primarily in wedding ceremonies. Mecho & Ocho is also used in this coming of age ceremony.
For wedding ceremonies, the paper butterflies are not presented as plain paper butterflies. Instead, they are accompanied with mizuhiki. Mizuhiki is an artform where string or cord are wrapped and knotted into shapes and patterns.
The Wedding Ceremony Sake Set shown on the right shows the butterflies attached to sake serving kettles (choshi) which look like tea pots. In contrast, similar models are attached to sake bottles which look like decanters during New Year celebrations; see here and here.
[Sake set for wedding ceremony. Photo from here; a similar set can be seen here ].
As mentioned above, Mecho and Ocho are historically important because they are the first known examples of representational origami. These paper butterflies are only used in formal ceremonies. If one was to decorate a wedding party today, one might turn to the incredible array or contemporary origami butterflies.
Moth of domesticated silkworm.
Is it an error in translation? We will never know.