Hidden folds at the Cherry Blossom Festival

Monkey magic by origami artist Nguyen Vo Hien Chuong
Photo by Erik Anderson

In Japantown yesterday, pet owners walked small dogs dressed in mini kimonos to the beat of taiko drums. The festivities were on account of the 43rd annual Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival, one of the state's largest celebrations of Japanese culture. The Sapporo beer gardens lubricated sale of T shirts and bento boxes, and Safeway had erected a pop up grocery store near the main stage.

But in the basement of the Kabuki hotel, one could follow makeshift signs to a cultural display without brand names and ID checks. Small meeting rooms held samurai swords and their aficionados, traditional paper doll creations and creators. The Cherry Blossom Festival had created this peaceful forum for an array of Japanophile collecters and crafters.

Oh, but the origami room!

Here, amidst improbably wonderful paper polar bears and geometrically complicated paper bowls, sat Jonathan Miller and Charles Knuffke. Two of the origami artists whose work was on display, they were teaching the random souls who'd stumbled upon the room of folded riches how to create simple creatures -- a swimming fish, a box for secrets.

Charles Esseltine's origami space magic. Photo by Caitlin Donohue

Next to them in a glass case on their card table, were works that the fledgling crafters they taught could only aspire to; Star Wars spaceships, weapon brandishing warriors.

Knuffke, who discovered origami when he was a mere 12 years old, held up the creature who'd pointed the way to fold and crease nirvana; the flapping bird. "This was just about as cool as it gets in middle school," he said, the crane mimicking flight with a few deft movements of his fingers.

Watching their tired joy in the last of the day's lessons in mountain, valley, and rabbit folds, it was easy to see why origami's stuck with the human race since the 17th century. There's something calming in the thought that with certain, almost mathematical techniques, one can create nearly anything in the universe.

And that, looking at the faces of young and old who'd stopped to pick up a fold from Miller and Knuffke, is cool -- even beyond the teen years.

"This was just about as cool as it gets." Photo by Caitlin Donohue

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