Edited by Patsy Wang-Iverson

Naomiki Sato
(All images courtesy of Naomiki Sato)

A bouquet with ivory and red roses

Old roses with leaves and buds

Camel from two bird bases

It all started with a secret meeting during the 30th CDO convention. I had missed Naomiki's class but I managed, through some high connections in the MFPP (the french Origami Association), to arrange a private class with him consisting of two other students and me. This intimate meeting allowed me not only to learn a magnificent rose, but also to get to know Naomiki. I must say his story and ideas are fascinating! So, without further ado, I proudly introduce to you Naomiki Sato!

Who is Naomiki Sato? Please tell me what I must know about you.

Sato: Besides origami, I have a great interest in human nature and human identity. I’ve been studying both vocal and signed languages for several years and, believe it or not, I have found how the human language works! My lifework is first to establish a new language theory in order to give equal status to all signed languages compared with oral languages and eventually to give a correct, or at least better, definition of the human being.

What is origami to you? Why are you interested in origami? What types of origami do you like to fold and to create?

Sato: Since my early childhood, I’ve always been attracted by paper and I enjoyed creating things by folding this particular material. Besides origami, I also love drawing. I think folding paper is for me just like drawing with pen or pencil. I can trace what I see with the creases made on a sheet of paper just like I draw with black lines on paper. I’m not saying that I try to put life to my models. I’m just doing some rough sketches of what I see in nature. There is a Belgian painter, Pierre-Joseph Ledouté, who is very famous for his botanical illustrations and especially for his rose paintings. His works are not just beautiful but capture the scientific details of each species. His art works inspired my exhibition held in Paris in June and July 2013.

Do you fold other people's models? If so, do you have a favorite designer? What three origami books will you take with you to a desert island? If you don’t fold others' models, why not? What is your source of inspiration?

Sato: When I was a child, I enjoyed folding models by Kasahara, Takahama and Momotani. My favorite book is Momotani’s Origami nyu̅mon (Initiation to Origami), in which he explains not only his method of creating origami models but also the origami as a culture. But nowadays I rarely fold other designers’ models from diagrams. I enjoy, however, participating in workshops held at conventions and learning models directly from the creators. As most of my models are animals and flowers, I think I get most of my inspiration directly or indirectly from nature. When I was about 12 years old, I started creating insect models. I saw some of them living in the fields and the woods. I was also inspired by the pictures of those I found on the pages of the encyclopedia. When I traveled to Egypt some years ago, I saw many camels there. I was quite impressed by their long legs, which are not really represented in the models I knew at that time. In order to achieve their slender and lean legs I didn’t hesitate to use two crane bases. The only regret is that the ears are too small, but overall I’m quite satisfied as I could have immortalized my memorable journey.

In recent years you create only roses. Please tell us, why roses? It seems to be a narrow field for focus, and yet you manage to fill your world with it. Tell us more about it.

Cherokee roses

Sato: My first inspiration was the Kawasaki rose, published in Top Origami. Like many others, I fell in love with this model and I folded it so many times. However this beautiful model contains one detail that bothered me a lot. The Kawasaki rose is made from a square sheet of paper, which is quite normal for paper folders in general. But for me, this particular aspect of the model betrayed the way nature created the botanical rose. I was raised on the campus of the agricultural department of Shinshu̅ University, located in Nagano prefecture, known for hosting the Winter Olympic Games in 1998. My father was a professor specializing in fruit studies, like apples, pears and blueberries. Since I was a little kid, I was always interested in his work and I sometimes accompanied him in his fieldwork. Thanks to him I learned that the rose belongs to the same family as apples and cherries, which means that its flower should have five petals and not four, as you see in the Kawasaki rose. The idea of adapting the Kawasaki rose to a pentagon came rapidly to mind, but I hesitated for a long time because it seemed that making a pentagon variation could be a sacrilege to the model that I love so much. In May 2008, Jun Maekawa was one of the invited folders of the MFPP convention. I took a train from Paris to pick him up at the airport Charles de Gaulle. On the way I started folding my first fivefold rose. I really don’t know why I chose this very moment to create this model; I didn’t even have any scissors to cut correctly a square into a pentagon! It just struck my mind and I couldn’t help working on it. Four days later, on the last day of the convention, I managed to present my prototype and taught it to some people in a free workshop. Since then, my pentagon rose has evolved so much and now I have not only various models of rose but also some models of leaf and bud. It seems that the change of the form from a square to a pentagon not only gave a realistic aspect to the model but also liberated the possibilities for a great variation.

Creation is a mysterious process. Can you shed some light on your process? How much of it is planned in advance? Do you calculate your steps? Is it trial and error?

"Pierre de Ronsard", another famous cupped old rose.

Sato: I don’t really make any plans in advance. The crease pattern approach is not my style. But it is important to have a clear image of what I want to create before working on new models. Then I wait until I have some ideas for the techniques that would allow me to reach my goal. Once I start, I often go through a long trial and error period. In the summer of 2012, when I came back to Japan to see my family in Nagano, I went to see my friend’s mother who lives near my parents’ house. I made some of my roses for her and she loved them. Then she picked up a beautiful cupped rose called “Heritage” (heirloom) from her garden and showed it to me. It was the first time that I saw a real “old rose” and I learned that my previous roses are so-called “modern roses” (hybrid roses). I was so fascinated by the beauty of this old rose and naturally I started trying to transform my modern rose with rather pointed petals to an old rose, which has many rounded petals. At the beginning, the challenge seemed to be impossible, because the rose I had already created and the rose I tried to create looked as if they had nothing in common. Little by little, I came to achieve the features I wanted to put in my old rose. I made a major breakthrough when I realized that I could make the petals which curl slightly inside. I completed this model by creating a calyx which can fit into the base with a smaller hole compared with my modern rose.

A rose folded with washi treated by Do̅sabiki

What papers do you usually use? Why? How do you decide what paper to choose? Do you try to match the paper to the model?

Sato: For my roses, I often use a paper called Vivaldi (120g/m2) from Canson, a French paper maker. This paper is a bit too heavy for folding regular origami models but best suited for my roses. Besides, there are so many vivid colors available for flowers. In the future, I’m thinking about using Washi (Japanese paper) but I have to master a treatment technique called Do̅sabiki to make it stiffer, as Washi is too soft to fold my roses.

I believe origami is a medium for communicating with other people. As a unique art field, you can stir emotions in the hearts of your art observers. What do you try to communicate with your audience through your origami?

The banner of a forum discussing origami roses

Sato: I don’t try to put any particular message through my origami, but since I published some tutorials of my fivefold rose on the Internet, I’ve been observing a very interesting phenomenon among the people who appreciate my roses, especially in Japan. I have to admit that my roses have a very special charm, and the people have the urge to master my roses on their own. In fact, about three years ago, with help from a friend of mine (who is also a fan of my roses) I started a discussion forum on a Japanese social network in order to communicate with them and help them go through some difficult steps. We did not limit ourselves only to my roses but welcomed all other origami roses. Now we have more than 600 members and some people post pictures of the roses they folded on a regular basis. The JOAS organizes the Tokyo convention every summer and for the forum members this became a precious opportunity to see each other in person. Since the creation of the forum, my friend (the co-founder of the forum) has organized some workshops for the New Kawasaki Rose and my fivefold rose in the Culture Center in Yokohama. And to our surprise, some participants take even a bullet train to come to the workshop! I have been so impressed by the passion generated by the origami roses.

"Jeanne K."

An origami rose with a real rose

I am sure there is one model of yours that you would like to point out for us. Which one is it, and please tell us why you choose it.

Sato: Among variations of my old rose, there is one I call "Jeanne K.". I named it after my American host mother who welcomed me as an exchange student from Japan when I was 18 years old. I lost contact with her for a while but thanks to the Internet I found her again, and we sometimes chatted on Facebook. She passed away recently and I wanted to dedicate this rose to her in her memory.

Is there one last question I should have asked? Ask yourself, but don’t answer. Just let us know what the question is…

Sato: What is the link between origami and language?
I’m very much interested in language. It was not until recently that I realized that language and origami share something in common. When you fold an origami model, you start by making a crease on a sheet of paper, which divides it into two parts. As long as you don’t cut these parts completely apart, they remain an integral part of the finished model. This “discrete character” can be observed in the sentences of any language. Each word used in a sentence contributes to the meaning as a whole, even if it can be defined separately as you find in the dictionaries. Besides, you can find the same thing in cellular division in biology. In the future, I have to investigate further this analogy between origami and language, but I believe that origami could be a key to the understanding of some important aspects of nature. I think there must be a good reason for my fascination with origami since childhood. I’ll continue my research in order to find it.

Name Naomiki SATO | 佐藤直幹
Age 47
Place of residence Paris, France
Education DEA (master’s degree in France) in linguistics
Profession Translator and origami instructor
Email nsato75 [at] yahoo.fr
Website http://pliagedepapier.com/gallery/index.php?cat=11645


A year before, In the 29th CDO convention, I was lucky to join a class by Viviane Berty, présidente du MFPP, and learned this Rose. There were no diagrams then, so I tried to make notes and take images of the process, to no avail. Luckily, for you there is a set of diagrams made by Patrice Reytier (translated to English, thanks to Gil Garibi), so download, cut a pentagon from red Tant paper, and enjoy folding!

Click here to download the diagram.

-Ilan Garibi