Twenty twenty-two marks the 100th anniversary of Shuzo Fujimoto’s birth. This Japanese creator had a huge impact upon the development of geometric origami, and yet surprisingly little has been known about his life and work.

I became aware of Shuzo Fujimoto in 2015, when, while attending my first origami convention, I developed an interest in tessellations. His Clover Folding and Hydrangea were among the earliest tessellations I folded. Fujimoto died that year, and this sad news certainly contributed to more online mention of his work. Shortly thereafter, when I started designing my own tessellations, I was made aware of the fact that some of my models, such as Stars and Squares, had actually been designed by Fujimoto decades earlier.

Interestingly, while both the physical origami exhibitions at conventions and the image collections on the internet were full of Hydrangea and Clover Folding variants, very few other models designed by Fujimoto were to be seen. I’m not sure I would have been able to name even a dozen of his designs at that time. Fujimoto was widely considered important within the origami community, and the few designs of his I knew were certainly elegant, but still it seemed a bit odd for someone to be held in such high regard while so few of his models were getting folded. In retrospect, I am less surprised, since you don’t see too many models by Akira Yoshizawa or Neal Elias being folded today, either.

When, in late 2021, I realized that Fujimoto was born in 1922, I decided the centenary would be a good time to honor his achievements and at the same time to learn more about him and his work. Actually, I had already made some headway.

A few years earlier, I had purchased reprints of several books by Fujimoto. The books were shipped from Japan by Satoko Saito, who had known Fujimoto and later became one of the editors of his books published as Project F. I had also connected with Fujimoto’s son, Hitoshi, in order to ask for permission to teach his father’s models at origami conventions. When 2022 arrived, I got in touch with more of those who had met Fujimoto. Over time, the scope of my research and preparations to celebrate Fujimoto’s centenary grew to include the following main topics: biography, catalog of designs and workshops.

Life

A testament to how little was known about Fujimoto’s life is the fact that only the year, but not the date, of his birth was widely known. To put together a biography of Fujimoto, I combined information from the tiny bios found in his books (translated automatically from Japanese), snippets scattered around the internet and questions patiently answered by eyewitnesses.1

I then cross-checked where accounts differed. You can find the complete biography on the Community for Creators of Origami website, in the Origami Masters gallery. I believe it is the most complete biography to date.

Here is a summary:

Shuzo Fujimoto (藤本修三) was born in Osaka on October 27, 1922. His father died in 1933, and in 1934 (Shuzo’s fifth grade), Shuzo moved with his mother and sisters to Sasayama (now known as Tamba-Sasayama) in the Hyogo prefecture to live in the countryside house of his grandparents, who had died before his father. He was a student at Homei High School (currently, Sasayama-Homei High School) and graduated from the department of applied chemistry at Hamamatsu College of Technology (currently Shizuoka University School of Engineering) in 1943.

He fought in World War II, and after returning home worked for the chemical/pharmaceutical company Ueno Seiyaku (this may be the predecessor of the modern-day Ueno Fine Chemicals Industry, Ltd.). After a few years, he became a teacher at Sasayama-Homei High School, where he had studied before. Later, he worked at a number of high schools, teaching science and chemistry. Fujimoto developed his origami originally as a teaching aid — in particular, this is where his modular works that resemble crystal lattices came from. He married in 1951 and had two children, a daughter and a son. After the death of his wife, in 2009, Shuzo Fujimoto lived alone in his house, moving to a care home in March 2013, where he lived until his death on July 28, 2015.

Designs

One of the issues I encountered working with Fujimoto’s designs is that only a few have names. This makes any discussion difficult. I came to the conclusion that only a catalog of his works, listing as many as possible, and assigning each a unique identifier, similar to the opus numbers used for musical compositions, would solve this problem. I set out to compile such a list.

To start with, I had a few reprints of Fujimoto’s old books as well as two books from Project F that I received courtesy of Satoko Saito. I decided to stick with books, at least initially, since their number was limited, and in contrast to magazines, it was possible to gather a full set in reasonable time. I then used the Origami Database and help from its creator, Gilad Aharoni, to add some models not found in books to the list. My catalog will never be complete, since not all models were published, and many probably were lost forever with Fujimoto’s passing.

With the help of the internet, and Wojtek and Krystyna Burczyk’s huge collection of origami books, I established that Fujimoto published eight books altogether. In early 2022, the stock was mostly sold out, but combing through the internet I managed to finally get copies of the last two.

Fujimoto’s first five books (“Solid Origami,” “Twist Origami 1-3” and “An Invitation to Creative Play with Origami”) were self-published, so they do not have ISBNs. They were copied and reprinted multiple times with slightly differing covers. The three volumes of “Twist Origami” are copies of his hand-drawn diagrams and written notes bound together.

There is little order, and instructions are often fragmentary or completely missing. A number of models are primarily described by crease patterns (barely readable due to low print quality), and even step-by-step instructions often skim over many intermediate steps or use crease patterns a lot. Sometimes it’s hard to identify whether a picture represents a separate design or an intermediate step of another model. Occasionally, I had to actually fold a model in order to be able to say whether it was the same as one listed elsewhere or a distinct design.

This may be one of the reasons why Fujimoto’s models have not been folded too often despite the books’ availability: Actually folding them often involves lots of work that borders on reverse-engineering. The books also contain a number of interesting mathematical constructions in folding devised by Fujimoto. To find out how each construction works, or even what it represents, is quite time-consuming.

“Solid Origami” and “Introduction to Creative Playing with Origami” were also self-published, but the editorial quality is much higher, and drawings are a little more clear.2 The new books from Project F (“Folding Origami Hydrangea,” “Twist Folds” and “Hydrangea Folding”) are even better, and include lots of color pictures as well as completely redrawn instructions, making the models they present much more approachable. Tomoko Fuse and Satoko Saito were part of the editorial team. The third editor, Taiko Niwa, died recently.

The “Catalog of Fujimoto’s Works” combines information from all books into a single list. It enables folders and researchers to browse all models, to identify models based on pictures, and to find references to each design in the books. Thanks to assigning each design a unique identifier, the CFW number, it will be easier to discuss even obscure models. For example, that unnamed tessellation you probably never heard of that consists of pursed iso-area square twists can be referenced simply as CFW 291.

Legacy

So what is my view of Shuzo Fujimoto’s legacy, now that I’ve gone through all his books and lots of other documents related to his work? I think he can be described as an engineering-type of origami designer, and he even directly stated how his background in chemistry got him started and later influenced his origami work. Many of his designs were intended as teaching aids, representing structures of various crystals and simple geometric shapes. He seems not to have paid much attention to the artistic side of folding, for example to the paper used, or to the fate of his models. People who met him report that he often folded from random pieces of paper found around the house, including pages from magazines. Fujimoto’s designs often use rectangular, quite often A4 (1:$$\sqrt{2}$$) paper, which he found more practical and easier to obtain than squares.

Fujimoto himself considered his invention of a construction for an equilateral triangle a turning point in his origami career. Indeed, he was among the pioneers of using triangle/hex grids, which later became a staple of the origami tessellation genre, which he was one of the first to pursue. He published dozens of star designs, most based on a hexagonal sheet of paper and closely related to tessellations.

Apart from specific models, Fujimoto devised many useful geometric constructions which can be used in different models, not only his own: The iterative method of dividing paper into thirds or fifths is often used by folders not even aware of the method’s inventor. A construction much less known, which Fujimoto, himself, considered significant is the near-equal division method which divides the sheet into two segments, of n and n+1 units, respectively. His construction methods for regular polygons allowed him to create a wide variety of twists and 3D solids.

Among specific models, the Fujimoto Cube and the Apple seem to have been best-known during Fujimoto’s early career. Later, as tessellations gained popularity, his Hydrangea and Clover Folding (along with countless variants), became most recognizable.

Shuzo Fujimoto seems not to have had much in-person exchange with other origami designers, but through David Brill, he did get in touch with the British Origami Society, which seems to have been his main contact point in the West. He also corresponded with a number of other origamists, including Thoki Yenn, Toshikazu Kawasaki, Fumiaki Fujita (Humiaki Huzita), Tomoko Fuse, Koji Fushimi, Shin Yamaguchi, Kunihiko Kasahara, David Lister, David Petty, Francis Ow and Nick Robinson. Always brimming with ideas and working outside the mainstream origami trends of his time, he developed a unique style which was quite unlike anyone else’s.

The generation contemporary with Fujimoto’s main period of activity exchanged ideas mostly through books, magazines, letters and face-to-face meetings. As the internet took over as the main means of communication, a few of Fujimoto’s models remained popular. However, in my perception, he was mostly seen as “the Hydrangea guy” without much attention paid to the scope and depth of his other achievements. In particular, I think even more important than individual designs are the techniques and general ideas he developed: tessellations (and viewing them in backlight), corrugations, non-modular three-dimensional solids, and using crease patterns for communicating origami designs.

I hope this year’s celebrations and the knowledge and documents gathered while preparing for them will help preserve Shuzo Fujimoto’s legacy and his contribution to the development of origami.

Online event

The culmination of the Shuzo Fujimoto celebrations this year will be a worldwide online event being organized by Ilan Garibi, Guy Loel and me in mid-October. There will be workshops of Fujimoto’s models, where we will teach both some of his most famous models and some that few people have heard of. We will also make a few announcements during the event. One will be the official unveiling of the “Catalog of Fujimoto’s Works.” Another will remain a surprise, but we think it will be a great treat for the origami community. We invite everyone to join in the fun and celebrate Shuzo Fujimoto’s origami with us.

The virtual event is scheduled for October 22 from noon to 16:30 GMT (8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. EDT). To see the full program and get the zoom links booklet, please register via this form.