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Folding paper into art form in Japanese culture class

The arts of Japan filled the Coastal Region Library community room last week as two volunteers taught the old and the young origami, the Japanese art of paper folding.

Katsumasa and Nobue Shiga arrived in the United States eight months ago from Japan to learn more about American culture _ and to share their own.

The gathering they led Thursday was the first of five programs detailing different aspects of Japanese culture. The programs will be from 2 to 3 p.m. every Thursday in July at the library.

During the session, Nobue Shiga held up an impressive "mobile crane" she had made earlier that day. Afterward, she took a large colorful piece of paper, made a few sharp folds and transformed the thin sheet into a swan bearing tall wings and a stern neck.

A video detailed origami's beginnings and the introduction of a type of paper known as washi to the Japanese about 1,700 years ago. As the paper's quality was enhanced, it became more valuable, and the art of origami took form.

Paper was cut and folded into ornaments used on sacred occasions. It later became used in people's daily lives for lanterns, fans and screens.

Origami, according to the video, fulfilled an important role in making toys for children and providing them with a world that did not include computer games or homework.

Eva Jensen of Lecanto sat at a round table with her four young grandchildren.

"You don't need scissors; you don't need tape. You only need paper and fingers, and look at what you can do," said Jensen, who brought the girls to the program because crafts have been a daily part of their summertime agenda.

The girls were given small sheets of colorful paper and delighted in making a talking crow. Nobue Shiga instructed the girls and later brought over small rolled balls of toilet paper to "feed" the blue, pink and yellow birds.

The first task was complete. The second: constructing a popgun using a single page from the New York Times.

The newspaper was about six times larger than the first sheet. It was much thinner, too.

"Grandma, I need help," said Vanessa Ortega, 7.

She wasn't the only one.

"I can't do it," said 5-year-old Kyla Jensen of Lecanto.

"Yes, you can," Eva Jensen said.

Andrea Ortega, 6, worked diligently on her noisemaker.

Cirah Copeland, 5, protruded her small belly over the table and held her folded popgun in one hand.

Now, Nobue Shiga told the large group, throw it, but don't let go.

"Pop!" echoed throughout the room.

The other girls followed. The popguns lost their form with each throw, but the girls quickly put them back together to repeat the firecracker sound.

Katsumasa Shiga has been to Florida three times before; his wife has visited the Sunshine State just once.

"As long as you have a piece of paper," Katsumasa said, "you can do origami, anywhere, any time."

Lesa Ehlers, branch services manager with the library system, said that because of "an overwhelming response," reservations will be taken for future Japanese culture programs.

Katsumasa teaches Japanese culture at Mona Shores High School in Muskegon, Mich. The Shigas currently are serving with a volunteer exchange program, but next month the couple will return to Michigan and Katsumasa will resume his teaching duties, with plans of moving up to the university level, said Jim Ehlers, communications facilitator for the Citrus County library system.

The Shigas first visited the Coastal Region Library, 8619 W Crystal St., to obtain a library card.

When they stopped by the Citrus County Chamber of Commerce, the Shigas shared the details of their Japanese culture program and were asked to visit the Coastal Region Library a second time and inquire about holding the event in the library's community room, Ehlers said.

Charlyn Hill, a librarian at Coastal Region Library, said there has been talk of extending the cultural programs to other local libraries.

This Thursday, the Shigas will have a Noh play performance, with a Noh mask also on display. Remaining events include a Japanese tea ceremony, an introduction to Japanese art and Japanese calligraphy.

Katsumasa Shiga holds an origami creation that was made by his wife, Nobue, during a Japanese art and culture class at the Coastal Region Library in Crystal River on Thursday. The classes are being held every Thursday afternoon this month.