|The Public Paperfolding History Project
|The Blow-Up Frog|
page attempts to record what is known about the origin
and history of the origami design known as the Blow-Up
Frog. Please contact me if you know any of this
information is incorrect or if you have any other
information that should be added. Thank you.
This print, which is said to be by the Japanese designer Nishikawa Sukenobu (1671-1750), shows women folding paper. Among the designs they have folded is the Blow-Up Frog. I have not been able to verify that this print is indeed by Nishikawa Sukenobu, but, if it is, it can date to no later than 1750 when he died.
This print by Yashima Gakutei (1786-1868), which can be dated to around 1824, shows a courtesan holding a folded paper frog, probably intended to be the Blow-up Frog design.
Diagrams for the Blow-Up Frog first appear on page 47 of the Kan No Mado, which is usually dated to 1845. It is one of only a handful of designs in this manuscript that is folded from an uncut square. 6a marks the instruction to inflate the body.
This dyptich by Kunisada Utigawa showing a magician turning sheets of paper into folded frogs can be dated to 1852.
This somewhat similar print from 1863 is Jiraiya, from the series Toyokuni kigo kijutsu kurabe (Comparison of witchcrafts). The leading frog has a knotted letter in its mouth.
The central lady in this triptych by Utagawa Kuniaki, which can be dated to 1869, is preparing to inflate a paper Crane, while a completed Sanbo, a Blow-up Frog and another design which I cannot identify lie on the floor in front of her. Source: 'Oru Kokoro', the catalogue of an exhibition on paperfolding history held in Tatsuno City History and Culture Museum in 1999.
This print by Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900), titled Sheep, from the series Magic in the Twelve Signs of the Zodiac, can be dated to 1877. It is not clear why the picture features paper frogs rather than the sheep of the title.
A drawing of the Blow-up Frog appears in 'Yochien Ombutsu No Zu', a publication of kindergarten material issued by the Tokyo Women's Normal School in 1878.
In the book 'The Nightless City, or the History of the Yoshiwara Yukwaku by an English Student of Sociology' written by Joseph Ernest De Becker and published in Yokohama by Z.P. Maruya & Co. Ltd in 1899 there is a chapter on Magic Charms of the Yoshiwara which includes the following passage:
A drawing of the Blow-up Frog appears in a monozukushi-e print, by an unknown artist, but said to be from the Meiji era. I have temporarily assigned it the date of 1912, the last year of that era, pending the discovery of more accurate information.
A drawing of the Blow-up Frog appears in an illustration by Takei Takeo in a 1927 issue of the children's magazine 'Kodomo No Kuni' (The Land of Chicken).
Diagrams for the Blow-Up Frog also appear in 'Origami (Part 1)' by Isao Honda, which was published in Japan in 1931.
In his book 'Folding the Universe', published by Vintage Books in 1989, Peter Engel wrote, 'it became customary for a geisha to pin a paper frog to a pillar after entertaining a favourite patron, in the hope that he would return.' No reference for this version of the charm is given.
Another reference occurs in Robin D Gill's 'Octopussy: Dry Kidney and Blue Spots' published by Paraverse Press in 2007, which is a treatise on Senryu poetry. In explaining the meaning of a poem which he translates as 'by the whore fishing for a frog, a pot of herbal tea' the author states 'The frog is a charm made of folded paper ... with the name of a customer whom the courtesan wants to come back written on its back. 'Frog' in Japanese is a homophone of 'return' (kaeru) ... The frog was hidden in a drawer or somewhere where no one would notice it.'
In Western Europe / the USA
As far as I know the earliest publication of diagrams for the Blow-up Frog appeared in 'La Nature' of 28th September 1889 in an article headed 'Recreation Scientifiques' and subheaded 'La Grenouille Japonaise en Papier' (The Japanese Paper Frog). The article is attributed to Dr Z. I do not know who used this nom de plume.
The article is interesting not only for the diagrams it contains but also for the incidental information it provides. In his introductory paragraphs Dr Z states, roughly, 'The Ministry of Public Education of Japan has sent to the Exhibition (ie presumably the Paris Exposition of 1889) an interesting series of industrial and artistic designs ... made by children of both sexes in the country's school rooms ... but one can notice others which are not less curious. These are the recreational works done by the small children of the Azabu private school in Tokyo. The series of displays showing cut out and coloured papers combined to make flowers, butterflies or marquetry designs are quite attractive and our children would probably be happy to know how to make such pretty things. In France, it is true, we also know the charming game of folding paper. The classic Cocotte, the box and the galiote etc., are popular here but we must agree that the Japanese have more ingenious models. The Frog that we put in front of our young readers is an example. It is thanks to MM, the commissioner of Japan, that we have been able to trace the figures necessary for its execution'.
At the end Dr Z adds, again roughly, 'La Nature has previously given another example of the Japanese game of paperfolding, which was how to make the paper bird (ie the Flapping Bird). We also noticed in the exhibition other designs among which were the crab from red paper, the junk and the hat of Daimios (demon), the parrot etc., The way these designs are made has many points of resemblance to the Frog.' Dr Z does not appear to be aware that this frog can be inflated.
A discussion of the implications of these statements for other designs etc can be found here.
Diagrams for a version of the Blow-up Frog, under the title of 'Le Grenouille japonais', and folded from an eight-pointed star, appeared in the supplement to 'Petit Francais Illustre' on 24th January 1891. Information from Juan Gimeno.
There are several references to a grenouille japonaise, which I take to be the Blow-up Frog, in the 'Bulletin de la Societe de Protection des Apprentis', an official document issued by the Societe de Protection des Apprentis et des Enfants Employes par les Manufactures in Paris in 1891.
Diagrams for a version of the Blow-up Frog design appear in 'Pleasant Work for Busy Fingers' by Maggie Browne, which was published by Cassell and Company in London in 1891. The author does not appear to have known that the design could be inflated.
A version of the design appears as 'La Grenouille' in the French children's magazine 'Mon Journal', probably in 1900, although I have not been able to identify the exact date of the article. The author does not appear to have known that the design could be inflated.
The design also appears, though is not fully diagrammed, in 'La Ensenanza del Trabajo Manuel' by Pedro de Alcántara García and Teodosio Leal y Quiroga, which was published in Madrid in 1903, with the added twist that it is used to show the metamorphosis of a frog from a tadpole. Lack of full diagrams argues that the authors expected that the kindergarten teachers who the book was aimed at would already be familiar with how this design could be folded.
The design appears as 'Rana o Juguete Japonais' (Frog or Japanese Toy) in 'Guia Practica del Trabajo Manual Educativo' by Ezequiel Solana, which was published by Editorial Magisterio Español in Madrid in 1904. There is no mention of the frog being capable of being inflated or made to jump.
The introduction reads 'Among the interesting hobby objects made by children in the schools in Japan that aroused the most interest at the last Paris Exposition is the frog we represent here.' Presumably this is a reference to the Exposition Universelle de Paris of 1900.
Diagrams / folding instructions for the Blow-up Frog also appear, under the name of 'el sapo' (the toad) in the Buenos Aires edition of the magazine 'Caras y Caretas', Issue 238, of 25th March 1905.
Folding instructions also appear in an article titled 'El trabajo manual escolar' by Vicente Casto Legua in the January 1907 issue of the Spanish magazine 'La Escuela Moderna' which was published in Madrid by Los Sucesores de Hernando, under the title 'Rana'.
Diagrams also appear:
As the 'Japanese Frog' in 'Studies in Invalid Occupation' by Susan E Tracy, which was published by Whitcomb and Barrows in Boston in 1910.
In 'Houdini's Paper Magic', published by E P Dutton and Company of New York in 1922, where it is called the 'Bullfrog'. Houdini states that he learned this design from an 'Americanised Japanese' (from whom he also learned the Flapping Bird).
As 'Jumping Frog' in 'More Paper Magic' by Will Blyth, which was first published by C Arthur Pearson in London in 1923.
As just the 'Frog', in Fun with Paper Folding, by Murray and Rigney, which was published by the Fleming H Revell Company, New York in 1928.
In 'La Nature' during the 2nd Half of 1931(I do not know the date or issue no) in an article by Alber headed 'Pliage de Papiers' and subheaded 'La Grenouille Sauteuse' (The Jumping Frog). The author does not appear to know the design can be inflated.
As 'La Grenouille' in Booklet 4 of 'Images a Plier', a series of 6 booklets published by Librairie Larousse in Paris in 1932.
'Paper Toy Making' by Margaret Campbell, which was first published by Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons Ltd in London, probably in 1937, although both the Foreword and Preface are dated 1936, which argues that the book was complete at that date, contains four sets of diagrams for frogs, all of which are variants of the Blow-Up Frog design.
Bull Frog (The Blow-up Frog)
A version of the Blow-up Frog, under the name 'La rana del Japon', appears in 'El Mundo de Papel' by Dr Nemesio Montero, which was published by G Miranda in Edicions Infancia in Valladolid in 1939. The symmetry of the front and back legs is curious, and no mention that the design can be inflated is made.
The April 1946 issue of Popular Mechanics magazine contained an article, entitled 'Folding Paper is Fun for Everyone', which contained diagrams for the Blow-Up Frog. I learned about this article from Oschene.
The article does not mention that the design can be inflated but instead presents it as a 'hopping frog'.
Two versions appear in 'Paper Magic' by Robert Harbin, which was published by Oldbourne in London in 1956 as 'Jumpimg Frog' and 'Blow-up Frog'.
This second version seems to be a new variation designed to make the frog hold together better when inflated to the fullest possible extent.
The 1958 Rupert Annual contained instructions for making 'Rupert's Paper Frog'. There are no instructions for inflating it.