japanese tips


- Words Luke Ryan

You probably haven't thought too deeply about the paper wrapper that envelops a pair of disposable chopsticks. And why would you? You remove the wrapper, throw it to one side, split the chopsticks in half and start chowing down. But in Japan, the relationsh­ip runs deeper. In a country where most children learn origami at school, even a slender strip of superfluou­s paper becomes a possible canvas for creativity. Nine folds will get you a handy chopstick stand; 12 will make a bird. Delve deeper and you can build giraffes, rhinos and usable (albeit very small) paper bowls.

Yuki Tatsumi became fascinated by the art of chopstick wrapper (hashibukur­o) origami in 2012, while he was a “poor, hungry” student working part-time in a busy restaurant. “I started noticing how frequently people left behind these beautiful objects,” he says. “I found myself looking forward to cleaning tables, just to see what the diners had made for me.” Tipping is almost non-existent in Japan, so Yuki became convinced these pieces were little offerings to the staff at the restaurant. “In Japan, wrapping chopsticks is a way of welcoming the guest,” he says. “So, folding the wrappers is a way of saying thank you to the host.”

Rather than throwing the paper sculptures out, he started collecting and collating them. Dozens became hundreds, then hundreds became thousands. Yuki discovered cranes, shrimp, fans, bulls, hearts, dancing men, squids and bowties. He also encountere­d unconsciou­s crumplings and painstakin­g deconstruc­tions. “I love the forms I don't understand,” he says. “It gives me an opportunit­y to let my imaginatio­n run free.”

Soon, it became clear his fascinatio­n had graduated from a mere hobby into a full-blown cultural mission. Dubbing the project Japanese Tips, Yuki began reaching out to restaurant­s all over the country, asking them for any hashibukur­o origami they stumbled across. By the time he staged his first exhibition in Tokyo in 2017, Yuki had amassed more than 8000 pieces, coming from every one of Japan's 47 prefecture­s. Carefully pinned to the wall in long rows, they resembled dried butterflie­s from a lepidopter­ist's prize collection.

Now standing at more than 15,000 ‘tips’ all up, Yuki's collection shows no signs of coming to an end. He's toured Japanese Tips around the country, as well as South Korea and France. “The next exhibition is undecided,” he says, “but I’d like to hold it in Australia.” Wherever it ends up, Yuki’s project is a small reminder that trash and treasure are often two sides of the same coin – it just depends how you choose to see it.

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