|The Public Paperfolding History Project
|The Gondola / The Chinese Junk / The Takarabune|
page attempts to record what is known about the origin
and history of the origami designs known in the West as
the Chinese Junk and the Gondola, and in Japan as the
Takarabune (Treasure Ship). 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.
I use the name 'Chinese Junk' for the standard European version which is developed from a blintzed windmill base, and which usually has two seats, one at each end, or less usually a seat at one end and a prow at the other, or for the versions with similar appearances developed in other ways.
I use the name 'Gondola' to mean the simpler variant of the Chinese Junk that is developed from a standard windmill base, and which therefore lacks seats / sails.
I use the name 'Takarabune' for any Japanese version of the design which either clearly predates, or is different from, the Western version. That difference may be either in appearance or folding sequence. While the Chinese Junk is usually developed from the Junk Box, the Takarabune is usually developed from the Tenjin Shrine.
The Chinese Junk design appears in various versions in different places with either blunt or pointed ends. In his article 'Is the Junk Chinese?', now available as part of the Lister List on the British Origami Society website, David Lister states that in Japan the Chinese Junk design is known as the tenmsen (cargo boat) or treasure ship (takara-bune) and has pointed ends (whereas most of the European versions of the design have blunt ends). It also occurs with one blunt and one pointed end. The significance of these differences is not completely clear although Koshiro Hatori, writing in an article entitled 'History of Origami in the East and West before Interfusion', which can be found in the proceedings of 'Origami 5: Fifth International Meeting of Origami Science, Mathematics and Education' says, 'This difference is, in my opinion, so critical that I am sure the Chinese Junk and takara-bune developed independently on opposite sides of the world.'
In this connection, in the interests of avoiding confusion, it is worth noting that, according to Robin D Gill, writing in his book 'Octopussy: Dry Kidney and Blue Spots' published by Paraverse Press in 2007, which is a treatise on Senryu poetry, the word takarabune can also be used as a euphemism for female genitalia.
A distinctive characteristic of the Western version of the design is the final 'pull-out' move that turns a flat paperfold into a three-dimensional boat. On the basis of this move, but of no other evidence, in his book 'Complete Origami', Eric Kenneway makes a connection between the Chinese Junk and Chinese funerary paperfolds (otherwise known as Yuan Bao) and concludes that 'its similarity to a Chinese ceremonial fold places it firmly in the Chinese tradition.' I no longer agree with this position.
In China (and in publications by Chinese authors)
Diagrams for a 'Dragon Boat' appear in 'Zhe zhi tu shuo' (Illustrated Paperfolding), compiled by Gui Shaolie, which was published by the Commercial Press in Shanghai in Ming guo 3 (1914).
In Japan (and publications by Japanese authors)
This pattern for a kosode featuring several Takarabune is from 'Tanzen Hiniigata, which was published in 1704. Source: 'Origami koten ni miru origami' Origami in the Classics) by Satoshi Takagi, which was published by the the Yasuhiro Sano, publishing office, Nippon Origami Association, in 1993.
This print by Kunisada Utigawa from 'Nisemurasaki Inaka Genji' showing a takarabune is said to date from between 1830 and 1842. Source: 'Origami from the Classics' by Satoshi Takagi, published in 1993.
The blog post Daruma Pilgrims in Japan: Suma and Iro no Hama contains the following information explaining the meaning of this print, which is probably a quotation from the text of 'Nisemurasaki Inaka Genji', although this is not explicitly stated: 'Prince Genji came to exile in Suma and performed a purification ritual upon his arrival there ... Genji had part of the beach separated by a curtain, and called a calendar shaman (onmyooshi ???) to perform the rituals. The shaman put a folded paper doll on a small paper boat and floated it to take away the bad fortune of the prince.'
A picture of a Takarabune design, under the title 'chousen fune' (which translates as 'korean boat'), appeared in 'Kindergarten Shoho' (Preliminary Kindergarten) by Iijima Hanjuro, which was copyrighted on October 4th Meiji 17 (1884) and published by Fukuda Senzo in August of Meiji 18 (1885).
The Takarabune also appears, under the title 'chousenbune' (which translates as 'korean boat'),in 'Kani Shukogaku' (Simple Handicraft) by Tamotsu Shibue, which was published in Tokyo in 1892. It is worth noting that in this version of the design neither end is pointed.
The Takarabune design is mentioned, but not illustrated, under the alternative name 'Sengokubune' in issue 1984 / 12 of the Japanese children's magazine 'Shokokumin'. Sengoku means a large amount of grain, hence wealth or treasure.
Diagrams for the Takarabune (made via the Tenjin Shrine) appear in 'Jinjo Kouto Shogaku Shuko Seisakuzu' (Handicrafts for ordinary higher elementary schools) by Hideyoshi Okayama, which was published by Rokushiro Uehara in Tokyo in 1903.
Diagrams, also made via the Tenjin Shrine, also appear in 'Shukouka Kyohon : Liron Jishuu Souga Setsumei' by Kikujiro Kiuchi, Rokushiro Uehara and Hideyoshi Okayama, which was published by Shigebei Takase in Chiba in 1905. I cannot translate the Japanese title.
Diagrams appear in 'Shukou Tebikigusa : Kokumin Kyoiku Origami Yuihimo' by Ishin Nishigaki, which was published by Meguro Shoten in Nagaoka in 1907.
Diagrams that show how to convert the Tenjin Shrine into the Takarabune (called Korean Boat here) appear in 'Origami zusetsu' (Illustrated Origami) by Sano Shozo, which was published in Tokyo in 1908.
A drawing of a version of the Chinese Junk 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.
'Origami Moyo, Book One', by Kawarazaki Kodo, which was published by Unsodo in Japan in 1935, contains a print showing a version of the Chinese Junk.
In Western Europe and the Americas
It is perhaps worth noting that a real chinese junk, the Keying, had sailed from Hong Kong in December 1846 and arrived in London, via New York, Boston and Jersey in March 1848, where she proved to be a considerable tourist attraction, so that many people in Europe and America would have known what a real chinese junk was, and looked like, at this time.
Almost all the images of Chinese Junks found in Western Europe / USA sources show a variation of the design in which both ends are blunt. The only exception to this is the images from the Dutch picture book "Hanenpoot", dated to around 1807 (see immediately below).
The earliest known drawing of the design in Europe occurs in the Dutch picture book "Hanenpoot" which Willem Bilderchijk wrote and illustrated for his young son Julius Willem in 1806. Each lf the drawings in this book is captioned underneath, somewhat like a comic strip. I understand that In the caption accompanying this drawing the design is referred to simply as a paper boat. I do not know how the flat but pointed prow of this version of the design could be folded.
The book 'Manual Pratique des Jardins d'Enfants' edited by J-F Jacobs, which was written in French and published in Brussels and Paris in 1859 contains two lists of designs, but no illustrations of them, making identification of some designs in the list problematical. Among the designs listed are:
From list 1:
22. La gondole. Based on the evidence of its position in the sequence of designs, this can be identified as the Gondola developed from the windmill base. As far as I know this is the first appearance of the Gondola design in the historical record.
23. La gondole avec des bancs (the gondola with benches). If I am right about the designs in the sequence leading up to this point then this item in the list appears to be an error ... since there are no flaps to pull out to change the form to add benches to the design.
From list 2:
19. La gondole simple ie the Chinese Junk without the sails raised.
20. La gondole avec roues. This is presumably a variation of the Chinese Junk, although at present it cannot be identified.
21. La gondole à voiles. The Chinese Junk itself.
22. La gondole fermée. This is presumably another variation of the Chinese Junk, although at present it also cannot be identified.
The Chinese Junk appears as 'De sloep of gondel, het wiegje' (The sloop or gondola, the crib) in 'De Kleine Papierwerkers 1: Wat men van een stukje papier al maken kan: Het vouwen' (The Small Paperwork 1: What one can make from a piece of paper: Folding) by Elise Van Calcar, which was published by K H Schadd in Amsterdam in 1863.
There is reference to a paper boat (galiote) in 'La Peau de Tigre' by Theophile Gautier, published by Michel Levy Freres in Paris in 1866. (Information from Juan Gimeno.)
In the original French:
'Je compris alors lénormité de ma faute ; je tombai à genoux et je baisai la poussière des bottes magistrales ; je répandis un sac de cendre sur ma tête, et par la sincérité de mon repentir, ayant obtenu le pardon du grand homme, jenvoyai au Salon une peinture à leau deuf représentant une Madone lilas tendre et un Enfant Jésus faisant une galiote en papier.'
'I then understood the enormity of my fault; I fell on my knees and kissed the dust of the majestic boots; I spread a sack of ash on my head, and by the sincerity of my repentance, having obtained the forgiveness of the great man, I sent to the Salon a painting in egg tempera representing a tender lilac Madonna and a baby Jesus making a paper boat.'
In view of the use of the word 'galiote' to refer to the Chinese Junk by Victor Hugo (see below) it seems probable, though not completely certain, that this mention of a paper boat is a reference to the Chinese Junk design.
Victor Hugo's story 'L'Homme que rit' ('The Man Who Laughs'), published in 1869, contains the words:
'Le bâtiment amarré au bout de l'estacade était une de ces panses de Hollande à double tillac rasé, l'un à l'avant, l'autre l'arrière, ayant, à la mode japonaise, entre les deux tillacs, un compartiment profond à ciel ouvert où l'on descendait par une échelle droite et qu'on emplissait de tous les colis de la cargaison. Cela faisait deux gaillards, l'un à la proue, l'autre à la poupe, comme à nos vieilles pataches de rivière, avec un creux au milieu. Le chargement lestait ce creux. Les galiotes de papier que font les enfants ont à peu près cette forme.'
which translate to English as:
'The ship moored to the wharf was a Dutch vessel, of the Japanese build, with two decks, fore and aft, and between them an open hold, reached by an upright ladder, in which the cargo was laden. There was thus a forecastle and an afterdeck, as in our old river boats, and a space between them ballasted by the freight. The paper boats made by children are of a somewhat similar shape.'
which is a clear reference to the Chinese Junk design.
A design called 'Ein Boot', which is not illustrated, but which from the context is most probably the Gondola, appears in a list of designs in 'Der Kindergarten' by Hermann Goldammer, which was published by Habel in Berlin in 1869.
The same book gives a second list of designs which includes a design called 'Die Gondel', which from the context is most probably the Chinese Junk.
'Paradise of Childhood' by Edward Wiebe, which was published by Milton, Bradley and Company in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1869, and is effectively a translation of Goldammer's 'Der Kindergarten', similarly includes a designs called the 'gondola' and the 'boat with seats', which are probably the Chinese Junk and the Gondola respectively, in its list of Forms of Life.
The Chinese Junk also appears, under the name 'Gondel' in 'Die Praxis Des Kindergartens' by Auguste Koehler, which was published by Herman Bohlau in Weimar in 1873. There are written folding instructions for developing the design from the Junk Box but no diagrams.
As far as I know diagrams for making the Chinese Junk first appear, as the 'Paper Chinese Junk' in 'The Popular Recreator', which was published by Cassell and Co in London in 1873. The author of the article, whose name is not given in the book and is not known to us, states 'This used to be a favourite paper toy with us at school, but I never saw an account of it in any book that I can call to mind.'
In 'Exercices et Travaux pour les Enfants Selon la Méthode et les Procédés de Pestalozzi et de Froebel' by Fanny and Charles Delon, which was published by Librairie Hachette in Paris in 1873, there is a list of designs which includes 'La barque a voiles' (the boat with sails) and 'La gondole' (the gondola). These are quite possibly references to the Chinese Junk and the Gondola but there are no illustrations to confirm the identifications.
The Chinese Junk also appears in 'Des Kindes Erste Beschaftigungsbuch' by E Barth and W Niederley, which was first published in Bielefeld and Leipzig, and the foreword of which is dated October 1876.
Both the Gondola and the Chinese Junk appear in 'The Kindergarten Principle' by Mary J Lyschinska, which was published in London in 1880 by Wm Isbister Ltd. The Gondola is called 'The Boat' and the Chinese Junk just 'Boat'.
Diagrams for the Chinese Junk, under the title 'La Jongue Chinoise', appear in 'Un million de jeux et de plaisirs' by T de Moulidars, which was first published in 1880 and subsequently republished under the title 'Grande encyclopédie méthodique, universelle, illustrée, des jeux et des divertissements de l'esprit et du corps'.This is the first occasion I know of where the name 'Chinese Junk' is used.
In his article cited above David Lister states that Gershon Legman's Bibliography of Paper Folding (1952), cites T. de Moulidars' "L Grande Encyclopedie des Jeux", published in 1888 (but previously published in 1880 as "Un million de jeux et de plaisirs") as the earliest European source for the Chinese Junk. This statement is clearly no longer true.
The same set of diagrams appears again in 'Cassell's Book of Indoor Amusements, Card Games and Fireside Fun', which was published by Cassell and Co in London in 1881.
The Gondola appears, under the name of 'The Chinese Junk' in part two of 'The Kindergarten Guide' by Maria Kraus Boelte and John Kraus, which was probably first published by E. Steiger and Company in New York in 1882.
The design that we now call the Chinese Junk also appears in the same book under the title of 'The Gondola'.
'Giuochi Fanciulleschi Siciliani' by Giuseppe Pitri, which was published by Luigi Pedone Lauriel in Palermo in 1883, contains a drawing of the Chinese Junk under the name 'La Varca, la barca'.
A similar drawing of the Chinese Junk appears in a pictorial story by Apeles Mestres dated 2nd August 1883 found in his Llibre Vert III.
The Chinese Junk design also occurs in 'Jeux et Jouet du Jeune Age' by Gaston Tissandier, which was published by G Masson in Paris in 1884.
The Boy's Own Paper no 389 of 26th June 1886 contained an article entitled 'A Paper Bird and a Paper Boat' which gave instructions for folding the Chinese Junk (not named but described as 'one of the best of the paper boats') and the Flapping Bird.
Diagrams for the Chinese Junk appeared in the September 1887 issue of the American children's magazine St Nicholas under the title of 'The First Paper Canoe'. The writer, identified only as H. E., states that he learned the design in England as a child.
In the December issue of the same year this reader's letter appeared in the Letterbox column:
On his website 'Bits of Smith', John Smith notes that in the The Magic of Lewis Carroll, Nelson, 1973, the editor John Fisher, quotes a passage from Lewis Carroll's diaries which reads. "We were playing on the fort at Margate, and a gentleman on a seat near asked us if we could make a paper boat, with a seat at each end and a basket in the middle for fish." This sounds like a description of either the Chinese Junk or the Gondola. No date for this incident is given, however this clearly raises the possibility that the folded paper fishing boats referred to on several other occasions in Lewis Carroll's diaries might have been either Chinese Junks or Gondolas rather than, as I have always previously assumed, the much simpler paper boat design made from the newspaper hat. One of the earliest of these references is from June 1889 and reads, 'Once at luncheon I had the Duchess (of Albany) as neighbour and once at breakfast, and had several other chats with her, and found her very pleasant indeed. Princess Alice is a sweet little girl. Her little brother (the Duke of Albany) was entirely fascinating, a perfect little prince, and the picture of good-humour. On Sunday afternoon I had a pleasant half-hour with the children, telling them "Bruno's Picnic" and folding a fishing-boat for them.'
'La Nature' of 28th September 1889 contained an article headed 'Recreation Scientifiques' and subheaded 'La Grenouille Japonaise en Papier' (The Japanese Paper Frog) which includes the words (here in translation) '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 galiote mentioned here is most probably the Chinese Junk.
Diagrams for the Chinese Junk also appear:
As 'Une chaloupe' (boat) appear in 'Les travaux manuels a l'ecole primaire a l'usage des ecoles de garcons' by Dauzat and Deramond, which was published by Alcide, Picard et Kaan in Paris in 1890.
In the Boy's Own Paper issue 655 of 1st August 1891, as the 'Chinese Junk'.
In 'L'Annee Preparatoire de Travail Manuel' by M P Martin, which was published by Armand Collin & Cie in Paris in 1893.
As 'El barco' in 'Cuestiones de Pedagogía Práctica: Medios de Instruir' by D Vicente Castro Legua, which was published by Libreria de la Viuda de la Hernando y Ca in Madrid in 1893.
As 'El junco chino' in 'Repertorio Completo de Todos los Juegos' by de Luis Marco y Eugenio de Ochoa y Ronna, which was published in Madrid by Bailly-Bailliere e hijos in 1896.
In 'Die Frobelschen Beschaftigungen: Das Falten' by Marie Muller-Wunderlich, which was published by Friedrich Brandstetter in Leipzig in 1900.
In 'Guia Practica del Trabajo Manual Educativo' by Ezequiel Solana, which was published by Editorial Magisterio Español in Madrid in 1904, under the title of 'Gondola'.
As 'Barco griego' (Greek ship) 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.
In the last ever issue of the Catalan satirical magazine 'La Campana Catalana', published in Barcelona on 29th April 1908, in a cartoon by Apeles Mestres which pictures a variety of paperfolding designs. This pictorial story had previously been published in his Llibre Vert III in 1883.
Folding methods for both the Gondola and the Chinese Junk are described in 'Studies in Invalid Occupation' by Susan E Tracy, which was published by Whitcomb and Barrows in Boston in 1910.
As 'La Gondola' in 'Ciencia Recreativa' by Jose Estralella, which was published by Gustavo Gili in Barcelona in 1918.
In 'Paper Magic' by Will Blyth, which was first published by C Arthur Pearson in London in 1920.
As 'Gondola' in booklet 2 of 'Trabajos Manuales Salvatella - Plegado de figuras de papel', which was published by Editorial Miguel A Salvatera in Barcelona, pobably in or around 1929.
In 'Fun with Paperfolding' by William D Murray and Francis J Rigney, which was published by the Fleming H Revell Company, New York in 1928.
In 'Winter Nights Entertainments' by R M Abraham, which was first published by Constable and Constable in London in 1932.
In booklet 2 of 'Images a Plier', a series of 6 booklets published by Librairie Larousse in Paris in 1932. This booklet also includes a design for a Petite Cale (Little Stand) to support the base of the design.
In booklet 2 of 'Figuras de Papel', a series of 3 booklets published by B Bauza in Barcelona in 1932. The design is equipped with a stand to support the base of the design and, in this case, also with a sail.
In '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.
In 'El Mundo de Papel' by Dr Nemesio Montero, which was published by G Miranda in Edicions Infancia in Valladolid in 1939, as 'El barco de la reina' (The Queen's ship).
In 'At Home Tonight' by Herbert McKay, which was published by Oxford University Press in London, New York and Toronto in 1940, contains diagrams for the Chinese Junk and a longer variation, called 'A Barge'.
A Barge (a longer variation also folded from a square)
The design featured in the 1949 Rupert Annual under the heading 'How To Make Rupert's Boat'.
Robert Harbin's 'Paper Magic', first published by Oldbourne in London in 1956, contains diagrams for various versions of the design and the information that similar designs can be folded from 'practically any paper box without a lid' and from oblongs as well as from squares'.
The Barge (The Chinese Junk wihout the ends raised)
The text says, 'Origin:Japanese'.
The Chinese Junk
Harbin's version with superstructure (developed from the Buckle)
Cleopatra's Barge (developed from the Bar and Bolt)
Attributed to Gershon Legman
Long Chinese Junk (untitled in the book)
Herbert McKay's method of making a longer Chinese Junk from a square.
The author extends this idea to make longer versions still from lomger strips of paper.
Harbin's Pound Note Barge (a version folded from a pound note)
The Chinese Junk appears as the 'Gondola' in the second edition of 'Het Grote Vouwboek' by Aart van Breda, which was published by Uitgeverij van Breda in 1963.
The Chinese Junk also appears as the culmination of the Multiform sequence, in 'Secrets of Origami', by Robert Harbin, which was published by Oldbourne Book Company in London in 1964.
A version of the Chinese Junk with one pointed end, called the 'Gondola', appears in 'Teach Yourself Origami: The Art of Paperfolding' by Robert Harbin, which was published by The English Universities Press in 1968 as the final design in a Multiform sequence, although it is not developed via the Junk Box.