KYOTO--In a nutshell, Mizuho Tomita is plain crane crazy.
Tomita, 70, is a practitioner of a daunting origami technique called "renzuru." This involves folding multiple cranes from a single sheet of traditional "washi" paper. The trick is to ensure that they all connect with each other.
The method has its roots in the Edo Period (1603-1867).
His own record so far is 368 connecting cranes from a single sheet.
Since he started, Tomita reckons he has folded more than 500,000 paper cranes.
"After the first 50,000, I began understanding how the crane feels. After folding 300,000, my cranes started to become really gentle. After 500,000, I guess we are all family now," Tomita says.
"When you fold a paper crane, you enter a spiritual state of nothingness. The crane has a way of staying with the person who folded it. The crane soothes and heals the heart."
In 2008, Tomita published a book titled "Ichimai no kami de oru Kyo-renzuru" (Folding Kyoto style renzuru with a sheet of paper) from PHP Institute, Inc. The book showcases Tomita's numerous creations, many of which are on display at an art gallery he runs near Kyoto Station.
Tomita likes to use a rectangular sheet that measures 64 centimeters by 92 cm.
Tomita said his obsession started with a dream he had on the night of Jan. 2, 1997.
Since ancient times, Japanese people have believed the first dream of the year, specifically the "hatsuyume" (first dream) of Jan. 2, foretells the fortune of the coming year.
In Tomita's hatsuyume, a crane landed from the sky and pronounced that he should "go ahead and fold origami."
That proved to be a problem. He wasn't any good at paper folding, and never had much to do with origami. When he told his sister-in-law about the dream, she sent him a book on the renzuru technique.
It was the inspiration he needed. Tomita challenged himself to study and try folding the 49 different types of classic paper cranes explained in the book.
But it was anything but easy. It took him at least a week before he could fold a single crane. At the time he was running a clothing store.
Finally, he completed one he was proud of and put it on display at his shop. When a customer praised his technique, he would just give it away.
"After that, my life became all about cranes, cranes, and more cranes. I couldn't stop thinking about them from morning to night. It made me happy when I gave away a crane, and people were happy to receive a crane. That is what the connecting cranes are all about."
For Tomita, every piece of work is like a prayer.
He took part in creating renzuru cranes to support the bereaved families of the victims of the 2005 train disaster on the Takarazuka Line operated by West Japan Railway Co.
Tomita is also involved in the "One Million Cranes" project that lends hope and support to rebuilding efforts in the Tohoku region following the Great East Japan Earthquake last year.
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Tomita hosts paper crane folding classes at the Orizuru salon Yume gallery in Shimogyo Ward, Kyoto. The class costs 2,100 yen. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed on Sunday.
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